Lumps on Neck: 6 Causes & What To Do

Lumps are a natural body response, that appear when the immune system is fighting some type of infection or inflammation. They usually appear near the region where the infection is located and tend to be tender.

Usually, neck lumps are swollen lymph nodes that appear due to simple infections, such as colds, flu, or throat aches.

However lumps on the neck can also be a sign of more serious problems such as cancer, AIDS, tuberculosis, or a tumor, especially if they are completely painless and are accompanied by other symptoms such as muscle pain, night sweats or weight loss.

Lumps on Neck: 6 Causes & What To Do

Here are 6 common causes for neck lumps:

1. Colds and flu 

These are the main causes for lumps on neck. It normally happens due to a virus infection in the body such as the flu or a cold. In this type of condition, the lumps can happen anywhere on the neck.

What to do: you will need to treat the flu or the cold, as the lumps will disappear when the virus goes away.

2. Throat inflammation

Although throat inflammation can happen when you have a flu, it is also normal for it to develop due to bacterial infections, as tonsillitis or strep throat. In these cases, the lymphatic glands on the neck get inflamed and lumps can appear on the region. 

In addition to lumps, which usually occur on the side of the neck, it's also possible to have other symptoms such as a cough, headache, throat ache, especially when swallowing, fever, earache, and bad breath.

What to do: it's advised that you visit a G.P. so he can assess whether you need to have antibiotic treatment for your throat inflammation.

3. Ear infection

Ear infections are similar to throat inflammations and so they can also activate the immune system, and cause lumps near the ears, especially in the area behind the ears.

This type of infection also causes other symptoms such as earache, difficulty hearing, itchiness, or pus.

What to do: go to the doctor so he can assess the type of infection and start you on antibiotics, if necessary. Generally, lumps disappear when the infection is treated.

4. Wounds or bites on the skin 

Wounds or bites are places where bacteria and viruses can easily spread into the body. If that happens, the immune system starts working to resolve the problem. In serious cases, in which there is a large number of micro-organisms, the immune system works excessively and this can lead to lumps appearing near the infected area.

What to do: identify the location of the wound or bite and assess if there are signs of infection such as redness, swelling, or intense pain. If that's the case, go to a G.P. to start adequate treatment.

5. Autoimmune diseases

Autoimmune diseases, such as lupus or rheumatoid arthritis, as well as HIV/AIDS, generally affect the immune system. When this happens, the damaged defense cells can accumulate in the lymphatic glands causing inflammation and lumps.  

In the case of an autoimmune disease, lumps normally appear in several locations throughout the body. It's also common to have other symptoms such as muscle pain, nausea, vomiting, and night sweats.

What to do: if you think you have an autoimmune disease you should go to the doctor to do general tests and start adequate treatment, if necessary.

6. Cancer

Various types of cancer demand a lot of work from the immune system, and so it's not uncommon for lumps to appear in several locations of the body. The types of cancer that more often cause lumps are lymphomas and leukemia.  

What to do: when all other causes have been excluded, but the lumps are still present, you may need to do some blood tests, to identify possible tumor markers, and other exams that help reach a diagnosis, such as a CT scan or an MRI. 

Treatment options

As lumps are the body's response to the presence of invading micro-organisms and/or inflammation, treatment consists of eliminating these factors. For that reason, you may need to take analgesics, anti-inflammatory medication, or even antibiotics, depending on what's causing the lumps to appear.

Even though it's not frequent, a lump on the neck can be a sign of lymphoma, a type of tumor that affects the immune system. If you suspect of cancer you should consult with an oncologist.

When to visit the doctor

As a lump on the neck can be a sign of a serious problem, it is recommended that you visit a G.P. if the lump appears for no apparent reason, increases in size with time, it's hard, is an irregular shape, or comes with other symptoms such as persistent fever, night sweats or weight loss without cause. 

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References

  • RAKEL, David. Integrative Medicine. 4.ed. Elsevier, 2018.
  • MSD MANUALS - VERSÃO PARA PROFISSIONAIS DE SAÚDE. Linfadenopatia. Available on: <https://www.msdmanuals.com/pt-pt/profissional/doen%C3%A7as-cardiovasculares/dist%C3%BArbios-linf%C3%A1ticos/linfadenopatia>. Access in 01 Apr 2020
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