Discusses possible causes of swollen glands and other lumps under the skin. Covers bacterial and viral infections, noncancerous growths, hernias, aneurysms, and swelling caused by cancer. Includes an interactive tool to help you decide when to call a doctor.
Swollen Glands, Hernias, and Other Lumps Under the Skin
Most swollen glands or lumps under the skin
are not cause for concern. The glands (lymph nodes) 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:
aneurysms are bulging sections in a muscle or blood
vessel. A nodule is usually a growth on a gland. A hernia, aneurysm, or nodule may be felt under the skin but may not be visible. These types of lumps may need more medical evaluation.
inguinal hernia is a soft lump in the
groin 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.
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
Symptoms of difficulty breathing can range from mild to severe. For example:
You may feel a little out of breath but still be able to talk (mild difficulty breathing), or you may be so out of breath that you cannot talk at all (severe difficulty breathing).
It may be getting hard to breathe with activity (mild difficulty breathing), or you may have to work very hard to breathe even when you’re at rest (severe difficulty breathing).
Many things can affect how your body responds to a symptom and what kind
of care you may need. These include:
Your age. Babies and older
adults tend to get sicker quicker.
Your overall health. If you have a condition such as diabetes, HIV, cancer, or heart
disease, you may need to pay closer attention to certain symptoms and seek care
Medicines you take. Certain
medicines, herbal remedies, and supplements can cause symptoms or make them
Recent health events, such as surgery
or injury. These kinds of events can cause symptoms afterwards or make them
Your health habits and lifestyle, such as eating and exercise habits, smoking, alcohol or drug
use, sexual history, and travel.
Symptoms of infection may
Increased pain, swelling, warmth, or redness in or
around the area.
Red streaks leading from the area.
Pus draining from the area.
Pain in adults and older children
Severe pain (8 to 10): The pain
is so bad that you can't stand it for more than a few hours, can't sleep, and
can't do anything else except focus on the pain.
Moderate pain (5 to 7): The pain is bad enough to disrupt your
normal activities and your sleep, but you can tolerate it for hours or days.
Moderate can also mean pain that comes and goes even if it's severe when it's
Mild pain (1 to 4): You notice the pain,
but it is not bad enough to disrupt your sleep or activities.
Certain health conditions and medicines weaken the immune system's ability to fight off infection and
illness. Some examples in adults are:
Diseases such as diabetes, cancer, heart disease,
Long-term alcohol and drug
Steroid medicines, which may be used to treat a variety
Chemotherapy and radiation therapy for
Other medicines used to treat autoimmune
Medicines taken after organ transplant.
having a spleen.
Try Home Treatment
You have answered all the questions. Based on your answers, you may be
able to take care of this problem at home.
Try home treatment to relieve the
Call your doctor if symptoms get worse or you have any
concerns (for example, if symptoms are not getting better as you would expect).
You may need care sooner.
Hypothyroidism occurs when the thyroid gland does not make
enough thyroid hormone.
Symptoms of hypothyroidism may include:
Tiredness and weakness.
Dry skin, brittle nails, and
coarse, thinning hair.
Not being able to tolerate cold
A soft lump in one of these areas (belly button, groin, past
surgical site) may be a hernia. A hernia can occur when
there is a weakening in the muscle wall and part of an internal organ (often
part of the bowel) pushes through.
With a hernia, the lump may go
away when you press on it or lie down, and it may get worse when you cough. It
may or may not be painful.
Hyperthyroidism occurs when your body has too much thyroid
Symptoms of hyperthyroidism may
Sweating and not being able to
tolerate hot temperatures.
Fast heart rate.
edgy or anxious.
Enlarged thyroid gland (your thyroid gland is in
Call 911 Now
Based on your answers, you need
Call911or other emergency services now.
Seek Care Now
Based on your answers, you may need care right away. The problem is likely to get worse without medical care.
Call your doctor now to discuss the symptoms and
arrange for care.
If you cannot reach your doctor or you don't have
one, seek care in the next hour.
You do not need to call an
You cannot travel safely either by driving
yourself or by having someone else drive you.
You are in an area
where heavy traffic or other problems may slow you down.
The following home treatment
measures may help you treat a painful lump or swollen gland.
Avoid irritation and prevent infection.
Do not squeeze, scratch, or pick at the lump.
Do not stick a needle in it.
Leave the lump exposed to the air
Adjust your clothing to avoid rubbing the
Apply warm, wet cloths to the painful lump for 20 to 30
minutes, 3 or 4 times a day. If you prefer, you can also use a hot water bottle
over a damp towel. The heat and moisture can soothe the lump, increase blood
circulation to the area, and speed healing. It can also bring a lump caused by
infection to a head (but it may take 5 to 7 days). Be careful not to burn your
skin. Do not use water that is warmer than bathwater.
Wash your hands frequently during cold
and cough season. This may help prevent some upper respiratory infections that
cause glands to swell.
Measures to decrease your risk of infection
Keep your skin clean.
Wash with lukewarm water and a mild soap or
cleanser. Do not use soaps and skin cleansers that contain irritating
Rinse your skin thoroughly after you wash it, and gently
pat it dry.
Wash soon after participating in activities that cause
you to sweat.
Do not use skin care products that contain oil,
because they may clog your pores. Instead, use water-based skin care products.
Read the labels on products, and look for the terms oil-free or
Do not squeeze, scratch, drain, or puncture a
painful lump. Doing this can irritate or inflame the lump, push any existing
infection deeper into the skin, or cause severe bleeding.
irritation by wearing soft, cotton clothing or moleskin under sports equipment
(if possible). Parts of equipment (such as chin straps) can rub your skin and
irritate it. Adjust your clothing so that belts and straps or elastic from bras
or underwear do not rub against your skin.
How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.