According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), the neck is one of several areas where the lymph nodes (also referred to as lymph glands) can be detected by touch. Swollen lymph nodes can be due to a viral or bacterial infection as well as other conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis and certain cancers including leukemia. There are strings of lymph nodes along the front, back and sides of the neck, and there are a number of signs and symptoms that may indicate swollen neck glands.
When your body is working to fend off an infection, lymph nodes become larger and sensitive to the touch. A normal-sized node is only slightly larger than a front tooth. When infected, the neck glands can enlarge up to three times their average size to just under a half inch (approximately 1 centimeter). When swollen glands can be felt in the back of the neck and under the ear, a scalp infection may be present.
The symptoms associated with swollen neck glands may vary based on the cause of the swelling. The neck glands may become painful or tender to the touch. The skin in the neck over the lymph nodes can also become inflamed and appear reddish and warm.
When lymph nodes are swollen in the neck area, you may feel a sore throat, running nose and experience problems swallowing and/or breathing. This could be a sign of an upper respiratory infection. A fever also may occur along with night sweats and possibly unintended weight loss. Sometimes swollen neck glands can cause fatigue.
Infected lymph nodes in your neck glands may feel solid and inflexible, and they may grow at a swift pace. In rare cases a lump may appear in the neck that may reveal the presence of a tumor. The NIH says that if your lymph nodes continue to swell or don't get smaller after a few weeks, contact your doctor.