A small lump on the neck could be painful or painless, depending on the cause of your neck lump. It can be a sign you have a bacterial or viral infection, a swollen lymph node due to an underlying condition, or in rare cases, cancer.
One reason for these lumps is swollen lymph nodes. It indicates that your immune system is working to fight off an infection. When you feel ill, you may notice that Lymph nodes will often swell as a reaction to an injury, infection, or illness. Lymph nodes can not be felt when they are not swollen.
What causes a lump on the neck?
The swollen lump in the neck may be due to one of the following reasons:
- Thyroid problems
- Ear infection
- HIV infection
- Sinus infection
- Infected tooth
- Skin infection
- Strep throat
- cat scratch fever
- mouth sores
- Sézary syndrome
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Antiseizure and antimalarial drugs
- Medication or allergic reactions to medication
- Cancer such as lymphoma (where the cancer begins in the lymphatic system) or the nodes will swell if cancer originating in other areas moves to the lymphatic system.
Usually, a lump in the neck may be due to a swollen lymph node. The swollen lymph node can be due to various reasons, some of which are already listed above. A swollen lymph node is called lymphadenopathy. In most cases, only one area of lymph nodes will swell at a time. Swollen lymph nodes are usually found in the neck, groin, and underarms.
While the main symptom of lymphadenopathy is swollen lymph nodes, infected lymph nodes can produce additional symptoms. Symptoms of lymphadenopathy include:
- Lymph nodes are swollen.
- The infected area may be tender to the touch.
- Nodes may be soft or matted together.
- The skin over the nodes may appear red.
- Nodes may become filled with pus.
- Fluid may drain from the nodes onto the skin.
It is called generalized lymphadenopathy, when more than one area is swollen at a time.
Generalized lymphadenopathy can be caused by:
- Strep throat
- Chicken Pox
- Certain medications
- Immune system diseases
- Cancer such as leukemia and lymphoma
Swollen lymph nodes on neck
When the lymph nodes detect a problem in the fluid, such as cancer, infection, or injury, they may swell. Generally, lymph nodes over 1 cm in diameter are considered ‘abnormal.’ Glands in your neck may also swell due to stress.
The swelling of one or more lymph nodes is called Lymphadenitis. Lymph nodes usually swell due to an infection in another body area. Lymph nodes are generally small and firm. As they swell, they become enlarged and may feel tender.
Although finding a swollen lymph node can make you fear the worst, it often results in a benign infection. Bacteria, or fungi, can cause infections that spread to the lymph nodes.
As the lymph nodes detect these things, the groups of nodes will work together to rid the body of the unwanted virus, bacteria, or fungus in the lymph fluid.
Read More: Swollen Lymph Nodes Under The Jaw
Lymph nodes usually swell in the area that is infected. Swollen lymph nodes in the neck may indicate an upper respiratory infection, such as a cold.
Swollen lymph nodes in the neck may be as small as a pea or as large as a cherry. You may notice pain when chewing, swallowing, or moving your head from side to side.
Swollen lymph nodes are a sign that your body is working hard to rid your body of the virus, bacteria, or infection that caused the nodes to swell. In rare cases, it can be a sign of something more serious.
How do you diagnose a lump on neck?
The cause of swollen lymph nodes can be pinpointed by considering the other symptoms observed. For example, a small lump in the neck accompanied by a sore throat can be caused by strep throat.
Your doctor will see your medical history and a physical exam to determine the diagnosis. During your exam, you will probably be asked about any other symptoms you are experiencing, as well as any recent travel, encounters with animals, and any signs of infection near the swollen nodes.
Your doctor may order a blood test to determine any abnormalities in the blood. You may also need an imaging test, such as an MRI, CT scan, x-ray, or ultrasound.
In some rare cases, you may need a lymph node biopsy. With this test, a small amount of cells are removed from the lymph node with a needle and sent for testing to determine if there is a disease like cancer.
Lymphatic system and treatment of swollen lymph nodes on the neck
Lymph nodes are small ovals of lymphatic tissue found at intervals along the lymphatic vessels. Lymph nodes are part of the body’s lymphatic system, which works to help filter out impurities that are in the body’s muscle tissue outside of the bloodstream.
Lymph vessels and lymph nodes make up the lymphatic system. Together, they help the body eliminate excess fluid, toxins, bacteria, and viruses. It is more usual to feel swollen lymph nodes in the armpit, groin, head, and neck if you have an infection.
There are about 600 hundred lymph nodes in the body. The lymph nodes act as a filter to remove harmful substances in the fluid before reaching the chest. They contain immune cells that help to fight and break down infection by destroying the germs in the lymph fluid.
There are also lymph nodes deep in the body, such as around the lungs or bowel, that filter the fluid in that area. The lymph fluid flows slowly through the body, collecting more fluid as it moves towards the chest. Swollen lymph nodes are usually observed in lymph nodes close to the skin; these include the neck, underarms, and groin region of your body.
The lymph vessels direct the fluid away from the cells and towards the chest. The fluid is directed to a large vessel in the chest where it is collected and drained into a blood vessel in the heart.
Many infections cause the lymph nodes to swell in response to the disease, and the swelling goes away as the infection is treated. Your doctor may advise you to take antibiotics and pain relievers to combat the inflammation.
Cancer-related lumps or swollen lymph nodes will not shrink until the cancer has been completely treated. Your doctor may recommend that the lump be surgically removed in some cases.
When should I worry about a lump on my neck?
A lump in the neck is common, but if it stays there for days and does not go away, see a doctor immediately. You should always consider seeing a doctor If it is painful, grows in size, or does not go away after weeks. Two scenarios cause cancer in the lymph nodes.
A) Cancer originates in the lymph nodes or another area and then spreads to the lymph nodes. When cancer begins in the lymph nodes, it is called Lymphoma.
B) Cancer often begins somewhere else and then spreads to the lymph nodes. Cancer can spread to the lymph nodes from other areas of the body. The cancer cells will move away from the tumor and travel to other body areas through the bloodstream or lymphatic system.
When the cancer cells travel through the bloodstream, they may affect organs in the body. When they travel through the lymph system, they often affect the lymph nodes.
Fortunately, the body destroys most cancer cells that break away from the tumor. Yet, some may be able to reach a new area and form another tumor. When cancer spreads to a new body part, it is called metastasis.
When to see a doctor for a lump on neck?
If the lump in your neck is due to a swollen lymph node that persists and is or is not painful, you should consult a doctor immediately. Consider talking to your doctor online to determine the right course of action for your specific condition.