Know What They Are
Lymph nodes are small rounded or bean-shaped masses of lymphatic tissue surrounded by a capsule of connective tissue. You have some 600 of them throughout your body, with the majority in your head and neck. When they work right, they clean out your system, protecting you from infections and helping your body launch immune responses to foreign substances.
Know Where to Look for Them
If you have swollen lymph nodes or glands, you'll probably find them in your neck, under your chin, in your armpits or in your groin. You might also have them deep inside your body, and be unable to feel them. In rare cases, you might have a node or group of nodes that swell rapidly and become hard.
Cold-like symptoms (runny nose, sore throat, and fever) are typical, along with slightly tender glands around the ears, under the chin or on the upper part of your neck. Sometimes you might have a skin infection or redness around the node. If you have enlarged lymph nodes deep inside your body, you won't be able to feel them, but you might have symptoms like a swollen arm or leg or a chronic cough.
Understand the Causes
If you have swollen lymph nodes, the most likely cause is a cold. Other infections, especially viral ones, can also bring them on. These include strep throat, mumps, measles, ear infections, an infected or abscessed tooth, mononucleosis or an infected wound. More serious causes include lymphoma or leukemia, or immune system disorders such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis or HIV.
Know When to See Your Doctor
Swollen lymph nodes usually go away on their own. Still, you shouldn't ignore them. Call your doctor if they don't get smaller or if they increase in size after several weeks; likewise, if they're red and tender, feel hard, irregular, or fixed in place, or you have a fever, night sweats, or unexplained weight loss.