First of all, it is important to know that many cases of inflamed lymph nodes are not significant, especially if this is due to infections. However, it is always advisable to control the state of your lymph nodes to prevent other diseases and if they get inflamed, it is best to see a doctor.
These small lumps that sometimes appear a little swollen on your neck, like when you have a cold for example, are called lymph nodes. They are essential to your body and act as liquid filters for the (lymph) tissue. They are shaped like almonds, barely more than a centimeter, and form a type of bunch around your neck, armpits, groin, thorax, and abdomen. If you notice that they are inflamed, the first thing you should do is keep calm and remember that over half of the time it is due to normal causes. However, it is always best to get a diagnosis from a doctor. Next, we will explain the function of the lymph nodes and the cause of inflammation.
What Do Lymph Nodes Do?
This is basically what lymph nodes do:
- Filter the lymph nodes from foreign substances like bacteria and cancerous cells, and destroy them.
- Produce white blood cells, like lymphocytes and plasma, which are responsible for destroying foreign substances.
- The lymphatic systems is structured like blood vessels.
- Defend your immune system.
- Lymph nodes have different shapes and sizes. For example, underneath the jaw they are flat and around a centimeter wide and in the shape of a bean. The ones in the nape are around 0.5 centimeters and are shaped like a lentil. And the lymph nodes in the groin are long and a little over 1.5 centimeters.
Why Do Lymph Nodes Get Inflamed?
There are many reasons for inflamed lymph nodes. Since their main function is to protect your immune system, they are very sensitive to any changes. It could be due to insignificant causes or have more serious origins like cancer, for example. But let’s look at the possible causes of inflammation in detail:
- Normal infections due to colds, flus, or tonsillitis
- Specific bacterial infections: syphilis, tuberculosis, salmonella food poisoning
- Lupus infections
- Viral infections like rubeola, measles
- Infections from other pathogens like malaria, leishmaniasis
- Rheumatic diseases
- Inflammation of lymph nodes due to medications: perchlorate, cotrimoxazole, hydantoin
- Stress, sleeping poorly, bad diet, lack of nutrients
- Sometimes lymph nodes can get inflamed due to lymphoma, tumor diseases, that are treated like benign neoplasms (non-cancerous). However, you have to keep in mind that there is a risk of malignant lymphoma and any changes or symptoms should be carefully monitored by a doctor.
Initial Evaluations of your Lymph Nodes
Your doctor will obviously diagnose you and tell you what you should do. Nonetheless, you should always ask yourself the following questions:
- Have you had a cold or flu?
- Where is the inflamed lymph node? Neck, armpit, clavicle?
- When did you begin to notice it? Was it sudden or did it grow little by little?
- Is it painful?
- Have you had previous sicknesses?
- Do you take any medications?
- Have you recently gone on vacation?
- Have you lost weight?
All of that will allow you to detect where your immune system hasn’t recovered yet, since the majority of the time inflammation in lymph nodes comes from previous illnesses. Sometimes it is because of some medication or bacteria. With your help and the proper tests, your doctor will be able to tell you the cause of the swelling.
Things to Keep in Mind
The majority of lymph node inflammation is located in the neck and the origin is almost always due to neck or mouth infections. These are not very important. However, you should make sure that the inflammation doesn’t grow excessively: when it gets bigger than 4cm, you will have to do a biopsy.
Remember that although the nodes in your neck are normally harmless, the ones located in the clavicle, no matter their size, are always considered to be dangerous and it is highly necessary to treat them quickly, because they tend to lead to cancerous processes.
How to Care for and Prevent Lymph Node Problems
One of the keys for preventing inflammation in the lymph nodes as much as possible is undoubtedly strengthening your immune systems. That is why it is important to consume the following foods daily:
It increases white cell production, which protects you from cancer and bacteria. It is found in the majority of fruits, vegetables, and nuts, like walnuts, pistachios, almonds, etc.
Foods Rich in Betacarotene
Selenium and Zinc
These help you produce more cells, which provides energy for your immune system. What foods contain selenium and zinc? Easy: whole grains, Brazil nuts, most nuts, seafood, soybeans, etc.