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Causes of Lymphadenitis in the Neck

author image Joe Sharg
Joe Sharg holds a Master of Public Health degree from the Harvard School of Public Health. His first published article was in the "Journal of Neuro-Oncology" in 1999. Since then, his work has been featured in numerous medical journals, on CNN and in "The New York Times" and "USA Today."
Causes of Lymphadenitis in the Neck
Woman in pain touching her neck Photo Credit: Tharakorn/iStock/Getty Images

The term lymphadenitis describes a swelling or inflammation of the lymph nodes which most commonly occurs in children. When it appears in the neck, it can cause pain, neck stiffness and redness of the skin over the lymph nodes. Lymphadenitis also commonly causes of fevers. The inflammation can include a single lymph node or multiple lymph nodes and can occur on either one side of the neck or both, depending on the cause.

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Upper respiratory infection

Lymph nodes in the neck collect and filter the drainage from tissues in the head and neck, including the upper respiratory tract. According to Medline Plus, when infection or inflammation invades those tissues, the lymph nodes commonly become inflamed as well. Kids with sore throats often get neck pain and swelling during upper respiratory infections because those conditions cause lymphadenitis.


According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, tuberculosis is an infection that starts in the lungs, and usually lays dormant for a period of time before spreading further. When tuberculosis spreads beyond the lungs it typically next affects the lymph nodes. The lymph nodes inflamed from tuberculosis are usually in the front of the neck. They first become firm and tender, and then enlarge causing redness of the skin over the lymph nodes.


The term mononucleosis describes an infectious disease caused by a strain of the herpes virus, according to One of the most common signs of mononucleosis is lymphadenitis. Lymphadenitis caused by mononucleosis consists of discrete, enlarged and non-tender lymph nodes.

Cat scratch disease

An organism called bartonellae henselae causes cat scratch disease, says Medline Plus. The neck can become swollen from lymphadenitis if the site of the scratch is in the area drained by those lymph nodes. The lymph nodes become swollen, and can develop skin redness over them. They can also become tender during the course of the disease.


Lymphoma is a cancer of the lymphatic system. Lymphoma affects the lymphoid cells and the disease can commonly be identified in the neck as a solid tumor. It can cause lymphadenitis in the surrounding areas by causing inflammation in those lymph nodes. According to the American Society of Hematology, depending on the type of lymphoma, it may be cured with chemotherapy, or may require radiation therapy or a bone marrow transplant.

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