Swollen Gland in Neck or Groin

This page answers these questions on swollen gland in neck or groin of a child, a condition called Lymphadenopathy:

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What causes a child to have a swollen gland in the neck?

Glands in the neck are lymph glands. When lymph glands (also call lymph nodes) get swollen, we call it lymphadenopathy. From a parent's point of view, you may only be aware that your child has lumps or bumps in his neck or around the back of the head.

Lymph glands (also called lymph nodes) get swollen when the body is fighting infection or other inflammation. If you have an infection in your throat, the body will send white cells from the blood to fight the infection. Some of the white cells go to the lymph glands that are close by to complete the task of destroying the intruder infection. When this happens, the lymph glands (nodes) become larger and tender, causing what many parents describe as abnormal lumps and bumps.

Most infections children get are upper respiratory tract infections, so that's why "swollen glands in neck" is such a common problem for children.

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Can children get swollen lymph glands anywhere other than the neck?

Yes, children often get swollen glands in the groin area. Most of the time, these are nothing serious.

There will often be a cut or scratches on the leg where the lymph glands are large. The body is just clearing out debris and it does it by white cells working in the nearest lymph node (gland).

So if the glands are just small, there is unlikely to be anything to worry about - just the same as if it were a swollen gland in neck.

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What should I do when my child has a swollen glands?

Don't be too concerned about your child having a swollen gland in the neck. When there is swollen gland in neck of a child, it usually means that the body is just doing its job.

Children have so many infections in the first years which are usually upper respiratory tract infections that children's neck glands can seem swollen a lot of the time. You don't have to do anything special for a swollen gland in neck. Once your child has got over the infection, the glands should get smaller and less tender.

To read more on viral upper respiratory tract infections, like the common cold, click here

Similarly with lymph glands that are enlarged in the groin. This is a sign that the body is doing its job and no specific treatment is required as long as the glands are small and there are no overlying skin changes.

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My child has ezcema and has glands at the back of her head and neck - why is that?

Children with ezcema have inflammation in the skin. The body's response to inflammation is similar to when there is an infection, so there is activity in the lymph glands (nodes) just like when there is an infection. It is normal for children with ezcema that is on the scalp to have swollen lymph nodes in the head and neck region.

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Are there any complictions of swollen neck glands?

Sometimes, the lymph gland (node) can get infected itself with a bacteria - we call this lymphadenitis. When this occurs, children may need an antibiotic or even surgical drainage. See you doctor if the skin over the lymph gland (node) becomes red and warm to touch.

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Can a swollen gland in the neck or elsewhere be a sign of cancer?

In most cases, no. Swollen neck glands which are not serious are common in children. Swollen neck glands due to cancer in children are uncommon but can occur. Most of the time, swollen neck glands will not be due to cancer. Most of the time, you do not need to be worried.

Just like a swollen gland in neck, most swollen glands in the groin are not cancer. In rare cases, it might be cancer but there would be features of the glands that would be ususual or worrying.

See the section below to know when you should be more concerned about a swollen gland in neck.

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When should I be worried about swollen neck glands?

You should see you doctor for any of the following: 

  • redness of the skin over the lymph gland (node)
  • a lymph gland (node) that seems to be attached to the skin overlying it - usually, you can feel the lymph node under the skin but it doesn't feel attached to the skin so it is easy to move under your fingers
  • a lymph node that is larger than a cherry or small plum (about 2-3cm in diameter) and is not getting any smaller over 3 months. Lymph nodes that are less than 1 cm in diameter are usually not a problem, even if they stay for longer than 3 months.
  • any swollen lymph glands (nodes) in the area behind the collar bones (clavicles)- we call this the supra-clavicular region
  • any swollen lymph glands (nodes) that are associated with weight loss
  • if there are other symptoms that are causing enough concern to see your doctor

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To go to the top of the Swollen Gland in Neck page, click here 

To go to the Ear Nose Throat page, click here 

To return to the Home page, click here 

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Last reviewed 1 June 2011

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Dr Maud MD

Dr Maud MD (MBChB, FRACP, FRCPCH), a specialist pediatrician, provides health information and medical advice for parents of babies and toddlers. Read more about Dr Maud.



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