A parent’s concern over finding a swollen lymph node, which is known as lymphadenopathy, is quite common during childhood. The most common place to notice your child’s lymph nodes are in the head and neck area.
Lymph nodes are easy to feel around the jaw line, behind the ears and also at the base of the neck, and parents will often feel them when they are bathing their children. Because young children get frequent viral upper respiratory infections (especially in the fall and winter months), the lymph nodes in the neck often enlarge as they send out white cells to help fight the infection. In most cases these nodes are the size of nickels, dimes or quarters and are freely mobile. The skin overlying the nodes should not appear to be red or warm to the touch. There are often several nodes of various sizes that may be noticed at the same time on either side of the neck. It is not uncommon for the node to be more visible when a child turns their head to one side which makes the node “stick out” even more.
Besides the nodes in the head and neck area there are many other areas where a parent might notice lymph nodes. They are sometimes noticed beneath the armpit (axilla) and also in the groin area. It your child has a bug bite on their arm or a rash on their leg or even acne on their face the lymph nodes in that area might become slightly swollen as they provide an inflammatory response. In most cases if the lymph nodes are not growing in size and are not warm and red and your child does not appear to be ill you can watch the node or nodes for awhile. The most typical scenario is that the node will decrease in size as your child gets over their cold or their bug bite. If the node is getting larger or more tender you should see your pediatrician.
Any node that continues to increase in size, or becomes more firm and fixed needs to be examined. As Adrienne noted in her iPhone App email, her child has had a prominent node for 7 months. Some children, especially if they are thin, have prominent and easily visible nodes. They may remain that way for years and should not be of concern if your doctor has felt it before and it continues to remain the same size and is freely mobile. Thankfully, benign lymphadenopathy is a frequent reason for an office visit to the pediatrician, and a parent can be easily reassured.
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