Swollen glands

Swollen glands are usually a sign the body is fighting an infection. They usually get better by themselves in two to three weeks. Occasionally they can be a sign of more serious illness. See the advice below to find out if you need to see your GP.

How to check if your glands are swollen

Swollen glands feel like tender, painful lumps:

  • on each side of the neck
  • under the chin
  • in the armpits
  • around the groin

Glands (known as lymph glands or lymph nodes) swell near an infection to help your body fight it.

Sometimes a gland on just one side of the body swells.

You might also have other symptoms, such as a sore throat, cough or fever.

Things you can do yourself

Swollen glands usually go down in two or three weeks when the infection has gone.

You can help to ease the symptoms by:

When to see your GP

You should see your GP if:

  • your swollen glands are getting bigger or they haven't gone down within three  weeks
  • they feel hard or don't move when you press them
  • you're having night sweats or have a very high temperature (you feel hot and shivery) for more than three or four days
  • you have swollen glands and no other signs of illness or infection

You should go to your nearest emergency department or call 999 for an ambulance if you have swollen glands and you're finding it very difficult to breathe, or difficult to swallow your own saliva (causing you to drool).

Causes of swollen glands

Below are some of the most common causes of swollen glands. But don't self-diagnose – see a GP if you're worried.

Swollen glands are:

  • often caused by common illnesses like colds, tonsillitis and ear or throat infections
  • rarely caused by anything more serious, like cancer of the blood system (leukaemia) or lymph system (lymphoma), or spread of cancer from another part of the body nearby

If you see a GP, they will help identify what is causing the swollen glands. They may prescribe a treatment, depending on the cause.

The information on this page has been adapted from original content from the NHS website.

For further information see terms and conditions.

This page was published February 2018

This page is due for review January 2021

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