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Expert Q&A

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Should I worry about my son's swollen lymph node?

Asked by Tabatha Lutz , New York

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My 9-year-old son has had a swollen lymph node in his neck for four months. All his blood tests came back normal. It does go up and down in size. Doctors and surgeons say it is just a swollen lymph node and it will go down. Can you please give me some more information on this?

Expert Bio Picture

Living Well Expert Dr. Jennifer Shu Pediatrician,
Children's Medical Group

Expert answer

Thank you for your question. I'll do my best to provide some general information since I do not know the size or exact location of your son's swollen lymph node or the nature of the blood tests that were performed. However, it is a good sign that the node does not bother him and that he has not been sick and that the tests that were done were all normal.

Lymph nodes (sometimes also called lymph glands) contain white blood cells and filter the germs throughout the body. The nodes are usually about the size of a pea and can become enlarged when they work overtime during common infections such as the common cold, strep throat, and infected skin wounds. An enlarged lymph node in the area of an infection (such as a swollen neck node during an ear infection) may double in size, going from about a quarter- or half-inch to nearly an inch wide. The node will usually shrink back to normal within a few weeks after the infection has passed.

A lymph node itself may become infected by bacteria and may require treatment with an antibiotic. Less common causes of enlarged lymph nodes include infections such as cat scratch disease, tuberculosis and sexually transmitted diseases. Certain conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus are also associated with enlarged nodes. Finally, cancer and HIV infection are rare causes.

For enlarged lymph nodes that persist longer than a few weeks, get bigger or happen along with other symptoms such as fever, unexplained weight loss and night sweats, certain blood tests, X-rays or a biopsy of the node may be needed. However, although lymph nodes may alarm parents because they are noticeable, they are more commonly a sign of normal fluctuation.

Good luck, and please consult with your doctor again if you have any further questions.

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