Swollen Glands and Other Lumps Under the Skin
Most swollen glands or lumps under the skin are not cause for concern. The glands (Reference lymph nodes Opens New Window) on either side of the neck, under the jaw, or behind the ears commonly swell when you have a cold or sore throat.
More serious infections may cause the glands to enlarge and become very firm and tender. Glands can also swell and become tender after an injury, such as a cut or bite, or when a tumor or infection occurs in the mouth, head, or neck.
Swollen glands and other lumps under the skin can be caused by many different things, including illness, infection, or another cause.
Swollen glands commonly develop when the body fights infections from colds, insect bites, or small cuts. More serious infections may cause the glands to enlarge and become firm, hard, or tender. Examples of such infections include:
Reference Bacterial infections Opens New Window, such as:
- Strep throat, caused by the Reference streptococcus Opens New Window bacterium.
- A boil (Reference abscess Opens New Window), similar to a large pimple. A boil may develop when a hair follicle or the skin becomes infected. A Reference sweat gland abscess may form one or more lumps in the armpit that look like boils.
Reference Viral infections Opens New Window, such as:
- A viral infection of the skin (Reference molluscum contagiosum Opens New Window Reference Opens New Window), which causes small pearly or flesh-colored bumps.
- Reference Measles Opens New Window, Reference rubella Opens New Window, Reference chickenpox Opens New Window Reference Opens New Window, or Reference mumps Opens New Window.
- Reference AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) Opens New Window, which develops in the late stage of Reference HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) Opens New Window infection. This virus attacks the immune system, making it difficult for the body to fight off infection and some diseases.
- Reference Mononucleosis Opens New Window (Epstein-Barr virus) or Reference cytomegalovirus (CMV) Opens New Window. These viruses cause fever, sore throat, and fatigue.
- Other infections, such as:
Noncancerous (benign) growths
Types of noncancerous (benign) growths, which are usually harmless, include:
- A Reference lipoma, a smooth, rubbery, dome-shaped lump that is easily movable under the skin.
Reference cyst Opens New Window, a sac of fluid and debris that sometimes hurts.
- Reference Cystic lesions Opens New Window from acne are large pimples that occur deep under the skin.
- Branchial cleft cysts are found in the neck and do not usually cause problems unless they become infected. These cysts are most common in teenagers.
- An Reference epidermal cyst Opens New Window (also called a sebaceous cyst) often appears on the scalp, ears, face, or back.
- A Reference ganglion Opens New Window is a soft, rubbery lump (a type of cyst) on the front or back of the wrist.
- A Reference thyroid nodule Opens New Window, which is an abnormal growth on the Reference thyroid gland Opens New Window, or an enlarged thyroid gland (Reference goiter Opens New Window) in the neck just below the Adam's apple. Reference Tonsillitis Opens New Window may also cause swelling in the neck.
- A Reference salivary gland Opens New Window problem, such as inflammation, a salivary stone, an infection, or a tumor.
- An inflammation of fatty tissue under the skin (Reference erythema nodosum Opens New Window) or overgrown scar tissue (Reference keloid Opens New Window).
Hernias or aneurysms
- An Reference inguinal hernia Opens New Window is a soft lump in the Reference groin Opens New Window or near the navel. It may be more visible when you cough. Hernias that disappear when you press on them may not need any treatment. Hernias that don't disappear when you press on them may be more serious and need medical treatment.
- A bulging section in the wall of a blood vessel (aneurysm) may feel like a pulsating lump in the abdomen, in the groin, or behind the knee. It can cause serious problems if it involves the blood vessels in the brain or the abdomen. Aneurysms may be a medical emergency and may require immediate evaluation.
Swelling caused by cancer
A lump caused by cancer is usually hard, irregularly shaped, and firmly fixed under the skin or deep in tissue. Although they usually do not cause pain, some types of cancerous lumps are painful. Most lumps are not caused by cancer.
Swelling may also be caused by:
- A side effect of a medicine, such as phenytoin (Dilantin).
- Other medical conditions and diseases, such as Reference lupus Opens New Window, Reference chronic fatigue syndrome Opens New Window, or Reference rheumatoid arthritis Opens New Window.
Reference Check your symptoms to decide if and when you should see a doctor.
|By:||Reference Healthwise Staff||Last Revised: Reference April 14, 2011|
|Medical Review:||Reference William H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine
Reference H. Michael O'Connor, MD - Emergency Medicine