A 5-year-old child may experience swollen lymph nodes during an illness -- in fact, the glands can swell to twice their normal size. Bacterial infections and viral infections can cause the lymph nodes to become enlarged. While swollen lymph nodes alone are not contagious, they often are a symptom of a transmittable condition, such as a cold, that may require your child to miss school. Contact your doctor if the swelling persists or is accompanied by other symptoms, such as a fever.
Lymph nodes are situated throughout the body. You can feel lymph nodes in the neck, groin, armpit, behind the ears, on the back of the head and underneath the chin and jaw. As part of the immune system, they help protect your child from viral and bacterial infections and the effects of other foreign substances. "Swollen glands" generally refers to enlarged lymph nodes. Those that are more than 0.4 inch in diameter, or about the size of a nickel, are considered swollen if the patient is a 5-year-old child.
Swollen lymph nodes are a symptom that your child's immune system is fighting off an infection. In many cases, a gland on one side of the body may be larger than the corresponding gland on the other side. When the gland swells to between 0.5 to 1 inch, that usually is symptomatic of a viral infection. When the gland exceeds 1 inch in diameter, a bacterial infection is the more probable cause. The respiratory infections common to childhood often occur in conjunction with swollen glands in the neck.
If your 5-year-old child's swollen lymph nodes are accompanied by a cold, sore throat, fever or other signs of infection, she can return to school once the other symptoms have cleared. Certain infections, such as ear or skin infections, colds, flu and abscessed teeth, may require treatment if the symptoms persist. The lymph nodes will return to their normal size two to four weeks after the end of the infection.
Swollen lymph nodes in a 5-year-old child also can indicate a serious condition such as juvenile rheumatoid arthritis or cancer. Contact your doctor immediately if your child is very ill or if he has difficulty breathing, swallowing or drinking. Other circumstances that require immediate medical attention include fevers exceeding 104 degrees that show no signs of improvement two hours after fever medication; lymph nodes that rapidly increase in size over the course of several hours; and situations in which the skin over the gland is red. Don't squeeze a swollen node, since doing so could interfere with its ability to recede. If the node exceeds 1 inch in diameter, call your doctor.