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Enlarged lymph nodes are most commonly caused by an infection in the neck area. The most common cause is tonsillitis, where the lymph nodes located on the neck below the jaw bone become enlarged, usually on both sides. Inflamed lymph nodes feel tender when touched. Inflamed lymph nodes due to pharyngitis (throat infection) are more common among young people and become less common with age. 

Other skin infections in the neck area as well as oral infections, for example severe tooth infections, may result in enlarged lymph nodes in the neck near the affected area. In such cases, there may be an enlarged and tender lymph node on one side of the neck only.

Some general infections or other more rare conditions may also cause enlarged lymph nodes in the neck area. However, these changes do not disappear within two weeks, as inflamed lymph nodes usually do. In these cases, there are also often enlarged lymph nodes in other areas such as the groin. 

When should I seek treatment?

If a lump in the neck is related to a throat infection, examinations are not necessary. If a lump in the neck is not clearly related to an infection in the throat or elsewhere in the neck and does not disappear within two weeks, a health care professional should examine you at the clinic. 

You should seek treatment immediately if you have a lump in the neck that is not related to a throat infection and you also have general symptoms of some kind, for example unexplained fever, pronounced tiredness, loss of appetite or weight loss.

Information sources: The Finnish Medical Society Duodecim, Terveysportti, Lääkärin tietokanta database

FSHS General Practitioner / 2 September 2019

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