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"What is the swelling in my neck?"


I am a 20 year old woman and have a bad cold, swollen neck that's very uncomfortable. What is happening?


Lymph nodes are part of the body's immune system. When an infection occurs, the bacteria or viruses are brought from the surface by specialized immune cells to the lymph nodes where they are presented to white blood cells. These white blood cells then start to divide and multiply and release a number of inflammatory factors which make the body a hostile environment for bacteria and viruses.

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The division and multiplication as well as the inflammation lead to swelling of these lymph nodes which can become very tender. Often this will predominantly occur in one lymph node, specifically the one nearest where the offending organism has invaded the body, because specific nodes act as drainage basins for specific areas of the body. The lymph nodes of the neck drain the mouth and nose areas, thus in an upper respiratory infection like a common head cold, these nodes often become swollen. The typical treatment is simply to give your body time to fight the infection. Once it is over, your neck will go back to normal. Another possibility is that your painful swelling is due to an inflamed salivary gland. The principle is fairly similar. These glands are typically under the jaw or to the sides of your face. Regardless of where the swelling is, you should talk to your primary care physician to make sure that there is nothing more serious going on, such as an abscess that has formed due to your infection. If so, you would need to be on antibiotics and likely require drainage of the fluid collection.

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