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The Lymphatic System in the Neck Area: What Do You Need to Know?

The lymphatic system consists of numerous lymph glands spread out through every part of the body, like a sprawling network. The lymph nodes are small, bean-shaped glands that filter whatever comes their way by means of lymphatic fluid, and they make up an important part of the immune system that also contains pathogen-fighting white blood cells (lymphocytes). Some areas of the body contain dense clusters. The neck is, for example, rich in lymph glands, which are positioned both superficially near the surface of the skin, and in the deeper layers of the neck.

What Do Swollen Lymph Glands Mean?

The superficial lymph nodes of the neck may be palpated (felt manually) if they become enlarged, while any enlargement of the deeper lymph nodes can only be visualized using imaging techniques such as ultrasound, a CT scan, or an MRI of the neck.

Lymph glands are also located under the jaw, and they may become enlarged due to numerous medical conditions of the oral cavity. Mild infections are actually the leading cause of enlargement of the lymph nodes. But in some cases, the jaw's lymph nodes can also enlarge due to more serious medical conditions.

The common cold and streptococcal infection of the tonsils and throat (strep throat) are the most common causes of enlarged lymph nodes under the jaw. Infections of other nearby sites can also be accompanied by swollen lymph nodes. These caused of swollen lymph nodes under the jaw include tooth abscesses, mumps, measles, glandular fever, infected wounds of the jaw, laryngitis, pharyngitis, and even an ear infection.

Cat scratch disease, toxoplasmosis, sarcoidosis, and tuberculosis may also lead to enlargement of lymph nodes under the jaw. Imunocompromized people such, as those suffering from HIV and AIDS, as well as individuals who have autoimmune diseases including rheumatoid arthritis and lupus, may suffer from swollen jaw lymph nodes as part of the clinical picture of their conditions.

Leukemia and lymphomas may feature enlarged lymph nodes under the jaw as the first signs of the disease. Even the spread of tumors of other sites can result in neck lymph node enlargement. Tumors which commonly metastasize into the neck lymph nodes include oral, throat, and laryngeal cancers.

Even certain medications can be responsible for swollen jaw lymph nodes.

Also, goiter is an enlargement of the thyroid gland. Since the thyroid gland is situated in the neck, its swelling may be sometimes confused with enlargement of lymph nodes under the jaw.

Treatment for Swollen Lymph Nodes under the Jaw

Treatment for your swollen lymph nodes can start only after the underlying cause of enlargement has been identified, since swollen lymph nodes are a symptom rather than a cause. If you see a doctor with this symptom, they will perform a physical examination, and may even recommend an ultrasound of the neck, a CT scan, or an MRI scan. In certain cases enlarged lymph nodes are even biopsied and the specimen is pathologically examined.

After the proper diagnosis has been made, the treatment may be conservative and include a variety of medications, or the enlarged lymph nodes may be treated surgically. Depending on the diagnosis, the doctor will choose the most convenient treatment modality and help the patient deal with the underlying disease or infection.

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