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Tooth Abscess

Cavities, dental work, or a mouth injury can lead to an infection in your tooth. This can cause swelling in the lymph nodes under your jaw or in your neck.

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Upper Respiratory Infection

One of the telltale signs you have an infection in your airways -- nose, sinuses, throat -- is big and painful lymph nodes in your neck.  

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Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is an infection that attacks your body’s immune system. You can get it when specific bodily fluids from someone with the virus come in contact with your bloodstream. Swollen lymph nodes in your groin area, head, or neck can be an early symptom.

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Lymphoma is a type of cancer that starts in your lymph nodes and causes swelling. Other types of cancer can spread to lymph nodes when cells break off of a tumor and travel in the lymph system to other parts of your body. Lymph nodes with cancer cells in them may or may not swell. The lymph nodes closest to a tumor are usually the ones that get bigger.

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Lupus is an ongoing autoimmune disease that causes inflammation in your joints, skin, and kidneys. It also affects your blood cells, heart, and lungs. Swollen lymph nodes aren’t usually a symptom, but they may get bigger during a lupus flare.

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Genital herpes, syphilis, and gonorrhea can lead to swollen lymph nodes. Usually, you’ll find them in the groin area if you have genital herpes or syphilis. Gonorrhea can cause swollen glands in your neck and groin.

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Scalp Infection

Scalp ringworm, an infection caused by a fungus, can make the glands in your neck swell. Impetigo -- another skin infection that usually affects your face -- can also show up on the scalp and cause the lymph nodes in your neck to get bigger.

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Viral conjunctivitis, also known as pinkeye, is a highly contagious infection caused by a virus. It can be triggered by the same virus that gives you a cold. Pinkeye and colds sometimes happen together. It can also lead to swollen lymph nodes.

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Scrofula, a type of tuberculosis, or TB, is an infection in your neck lymph nodes. It makes them swell and feel rubbery or firm. It’s typically not painful, but it might come with fever, chills, and a general unwell feeling.

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Swollen lymph nodes can be a side effect of the medication phenytoin. People most often take this drug for epilepsy, a seizure disorder.

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Cat-Scratch Disease

You can get a bacterial infection called cat-scratch disease if one scratches you, bites you, or licks an open wound on your skin. It takes about 2 weeks for symptoms to show up. You’ll be red and swollen at the area. You might also have a fever, headache, and fatigue. The lymph nodes closest to the area may also swell.

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You get shingles (herpes zoster) from the same virus that causes chickenpox. It sticks around in your body and can show up as shingles when you’re an adult. The main symptom is a rash that causes nerve pain, but you may also have swollen lymph nodes.

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Sources | Medically Reviewed on 02/26/2020 Reviewed by Jennifer Robinson, MD on February 26, 2020


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Mayo Clinic: “Tooth abscess,” “Swollen lymph nodes,” “Gonorrhea,” “Phenytoin (Oral Route).”

Harvard Health: “The respiratory tract and its infections.”

CDC: “About HIV/AIDS,” “Cat-Scratch Disease.”

Medscape: “Early Symptomatic HIV Infection.”

American Cancer Society: “Lymph Nodes and Cancer.”

Journal of Clinical Medicine Research: “Generalized Lymphadenopathy as Presenting Feature of Systemic Lupus Erythematosus: Case Report and Review of the Literature.” “Types of STDs (STIs).”

New York State Department of Health: “Gonorrhea,” “Bacterial Skin Infections: Impetigo and MRSA.”

American Academy of Family Physicians: “Syphilis.”

Johns Hopkins Medicine: “Tinea Infections (Ringworm).”

UpToDate: “Patient education: Conjunctivitis (pink eye).”

Medscape: “Scrofula Overview of Scrofula.”

Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis: “Relief from Shingle Pain.”

Reviewed by Jennifer Robinson, MD on February 26, 2020

This tool does not provide medical advice. See additional information.

THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and should not be relied on to make decisions about your health. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the WebMD Site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.