The lymph nodes are small glands distributed throughout the body that play an important role in immunity. They frequently swell in response to an infection, but may also swell for other reasons. Often a baby develops swollen lymph nodes in her neck. Though this can be frightening for parents, in most cases the cause is a simple infection.
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About Lymph Nodes
The lymph nodes filter waste and toxins from the body. Chemicals are filtered through the lymphatic system and then released into the blood. Lymph glands also store white blood cells, which fight pathogens, according to "Biology: Life on Earth With Physiology." The lymph glands might swell in response to bacterial and viral infections, allergic reactions, systemic illnesses and wounds.
Lymph Node Symptoms
The lymph nodes are normally small, round glands that are difficult to feel. When they swell in response to infection, they become larger and easily palpated. Pediatrician William Sears explains that they are often tender to the touch. Though lymph glands are located throughout the body, the most common sites of lymph node swellings are in the neck, the groin and the armpit. A baby with swollen glands in the neck typically has rubbery, painful nodules under his skin.
In most cases, swollen lymph nodes in the neck are caused by an infection such as strep throat, influenza, the common cold or sinusitis, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. In some cases, a baby develops infections caused by teething that cause her lymph nodes to swell. Rarely, a lymph node may swell permanently after an infection such as the Epstein-Barr virus is gone. When lymph nodes are very hard instead of rubbery, this may indicate a more serious illness such as lymphoma or leukemia. In the overwhelming majority of cases, swollen lymph nodes do not indicate a serious illness, so parents should not panic.
If your baby has swollen lymph nodes, schedule an appointment with your pediatrician. Observe his symptoms and check for wounds around the face, neck or ears. Your pediatrician will probably prescribe an antibiotic if she suspects an infection. If the cause of the swollen lymph nodes is unclear, the pediatrician may administer blood tests or advise watchful waiting.