They say that of all the things you have held, your baby is the best by far. While of all things that you detest, the unusual swelling in your baby’s body is probably the one you hate the most. Such as when you notice a pea-size lump in his neck, and your vigilant self begins to pack on anxiety. If fever shows up, it will probably send you into a panic. But what possibly causes the lump? When should you worry? Is the lymph node just a result of your baby’s teething, or is it something else?
A swollen lymph node on the neck is one of the subtle signs of teething along with mild fever and other symptoms. As your baby’s teeth begin to erupt, it can cause slight damage and trauma on the gum tissues. Sometimes you will also notice blood blisters in your baby’s gums which is normal, despite being scary. The inflamed tissues cause the responsive lymphatic gland by the neck to become tender. But it is nothing to worry about as a swollen lymph node will go away on its own after the process.
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What are lymph nodes?
We would always presume that when there is a tender lymph node, there is also an infection. Or, where there is a wound or trauma, swelling simultaneously occurs. But did you know that we all have normal lymph nodes that never shrink or go away? You can feel these lymph nodes mostly on the neck and groin. They are also present on the armpit, abdomen, and the back of the knees. But you cannot often feel them until, of course, they become tender. Lymph nodes are about the size of a kidney bean or teeny tinier.
The lymph nodes are a part of the lymphatic system. These are tiny tubes that carry white blood cells, nutrients, and waste materials on the deeper parts of the body. They also filter the lymph fluid and help fight infections. Hence, the lymphatic system is an extension of our immune system.
Causes of tender lymph nodes
Our neighbor one time anxiously approached me about how her toddler granddaughter developed a bump behind her ear. She feared it was some dangerous cyst and began to panic with her assumptions and wild speculations. As it turned out, the baby has a scalp infection. So I advised her to visit their pediatrician for it.
Lymph nodes, to some parents, are only those that they could feel on the armpit or groin. Other than that, they would deduce it is a tumor or even cancer. The next time I saw my neighbor, she gladly informed me that the nodules have diminished in size following antibiotic treatment.
It is normal to feel the movable lumps in your infant’s skin from time to time. Lymphadenopathy, or the swelling of the lymph nodes, is common in babies. Sometimes, they would occur in just one area. Other times, it can affect the glands throughout the body.
More often, other symptoms are also present depending on its cause. The common causes of swollen lymph glands include:
Tender lymph nodes are often an indication of bacterial infections. Think of lymph nodes as the immune system’s checkpoint area. When it detects harmful contagions, it will send a signal to the immune system. It swells to indicate that the body is working hard to get rid of such infections. It may be a little discomforting for your baby, but it is a good sign of a fully functioning immune response.
Strep throat, ear infections, and skin infections are common causes of swollen lymph nodes. Dental infections and tonsilitis are also culprits. The nodes are often large and may occur only on one side near the affected area. Pain and fever are also present when your child has a bacterial infection.
Upper respiratory infections will also cause inflammation of the lymph nodes. Most of these infections are often caused by many viruses. It is also common because of the many viral infections that the children will experience during their childhood.
Viral throat infections may cause swelling of lymph nodes on both sides of your baby’s neck. They may also appear quite large but of the same size on each side. Flu, common cold, chickenpox, or measles will likely cause swollen lymph nodes with accompanying symptoms in children.
Other illnesses that affect the immune system
Rare illnesses that affect the immune system also cause inflammation and tenderness of lymph nodes. It may include infectious mononucleosis or Kissing Disease, HIV, Adenovirus, and herpes. These can produce lymphadenopathy throughout the body.
Teething and Swollen Lymph Nodes: The Connection
Teething is the phase in a child’s life where parents endure more restless nights and days. It is also a stage where they most commonly end up in the pediatric clinic. You see, teething has varying signs and symptoms. So, it is really not surprising for us to see parents worrying about lymph nodes and low-grade fever.
Most parents would also relate diarrhea to teething. Although it is also a subtle sign, it is not teething that directly induces diarrhea. It is just the body’s reaction to microorganisms as your baby chews on everything he lays his hands on. It is the same thing with lymph nodes that get activated when intruders enter his system.
Your baby’s gums will experience stress and trauma during the teething process. The nodes by the neck will filter this trauma and begin to swell. And most of the time, they would also become inflamed in response to the microorganisms that enter the baby’s mouth while teething.
These nodes are mostly located on either side of the neck under the jaw and chin. Babies may experience mild pain from it. But eventually, it will get better as they recover from the teething pain, usually up to about eight days.
There is no cure for swollen lymph nodes due to teething. But you can help alleviate your baby’s teething pain through some simple measures. Some mothers may also offer paracetamol to relieve their discomforts. You can read more about other teething signs and tips in this post.
Treatment for swollen lymph nodes caused by teething
There is not much that you can do about your baby’s swelling lymph nodes. The treatment for it is to treat the very source of pain or infection. So, the medicine will only depend on the underlying cause. Your doctor will rule it out and prescribe the necessary medication for your baby’s infections.
Here is what you can do to relieve lymph node pain at home and lessen your child’s discomfort when there is a swollen lymph node during teething:
- Apply warm compress on the affected area
- Continue breastfeeding your infant
- You can offer water and fruit juices to older children
- Allow your baby to rest, if possible
- Offer your teething baby something cold to chew on and massage his gums
- Give acetaminophen with responsible and correct dispensing to your baby. Do not give Ibuprofen to infants below six months old. Aspirin is also dangerous for children so, stay away from it.
When should you worry about lymph nodes?
Lymph nodes are harmless and are mostly a sign that your child has an infection. It is also a tell-tale sign that his body is working efficiently to get rid of harmful bacteria and viruses. They will usually resolve on their own after a couple of days or after treatment.
If your baby is experiencing bacterial or viral infection, take him to the doctor. Your problem is not the lymph node but the treatment of the infection that causes it.
Contact your doctor immediately if your child has these symptoms:
- Breathing, swallowing or drinking difficulty in your baby
- Fever over 104F (40C)
- The infant is less than three months of age
- The baby looks and acts sick
- Very tender node and red skin over it
- You should also visit your doctor if you notice these nodules in your baby:
- The lymph nodes persist beyond two weeks
- Bumps that continue to grow in size
- Large, hard, and unmovable lymph nodes
- The baby does not show other signs of illnesses or teething symptoms
Will it help to squeeze the lymph node to drain it?
No. Squeezing the nodule will only prevent it from shrinking back to its original size. It will only become more painful for your baby. A warm compress is a better help than squeezing.
How long will the lymph nodes shrink back to their size?
Once the infection or trauma is gone, the nodule will return to its original size. Sometimes, it may take about two to four weeks. But remember, lymph nodes do not completely go away. Thus, you may still be able to feel them somehow.
Is it normal for my toddler to have swollen lymph nodes?
Swelling lymph glands is prevalent in toddlers and little children. It is because childhood is the phase of life where infections are taking a toll on their immune system. Babies and toddlers alone may experience about 8 to 10 colds in a year. It increases when the child reaches the pre-school age when socialization is in height, and proper hygiene is debatable.
Swollen lymph nodes or nodules indicate the body’s normal responses to immune intruders. They are enlarged when the body is in the course of fighting diseases. Teething babies also endure them because of the stress that teething can cause in their mouths.
It is easy to locate the cause of trouble since lymph nodes often occur near the source. They do not need treatment at all except for self-care at home. But to get rid of these nodules, you should bring your baby to the doctor. Proper treatment and medication will get rid of the culprit from the source.
Ann Marie is a licensed nurse in the Philippines. She had experiences in handling and assisting deliveries of newborns into the world. She also used to train in labor rooms and pediatric wards – helping soon-to-be mothers and little kids in the process. Though not a mother by nature but a mother by heart, Ann Marie loves to take care of her younger cousins as well as nephews and nieces during her free time.