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Cervical Adenitis

What is cervical adenitis?

Cervical adenitis is an infection of a lymph node in the neck. Lymph nodes are part of our immune system, which helps fight infections. Sometimes nodes in the neck become infected and these infections are called cervical adenitis. There will be usually be a painful and enlarged lymph node in the neck. It is often red and feels warm. The child will also complain of neck pain and be unwilling to fully move the neck in all directions due to the pain.

What is the cause?

Bacteria or viruses present in the nose, tonsils, or adenoids can spread to the lymph nodes and cause an infection. Also, cavities in the teeth can become infected and the bacteria may then spread to the lymph nodes. The infected lymph node then becomes enlarged, warm, and tender.

How is it diagnosed?

Your child's healthcare provider will ask about your child's symptoms and do a physical exam. If the node is extremely swollen, or if the child has severe pain, sometimes an X-ray or computed tomography (CT) scan of the neck will be done. This will show any infection in the inner tissues of the neck.

What is the treatment?

  • Antibiotics

    Most lymph node infections are treated with antibiotics that are taken by mouth. More severe infections may need to be treated with IV antibiotics in the hospital.

    Your child needs to take the antibiotic as prescribed and not stop taking the medicine even if the symptoms are going away.

  • Fever and pain relief

    Give your child acetaminophen or ibuprofen if he or she develops a fever of 102F (39C) or higher or has pain from the neck swelling.

  • Fluids

    Make sure your child is drinking plenty of fluids.

  • Observation of lymph nodes

    Your child's lymph node may have been outlined with a pen during your visit. If so, watch to see that the node is not enlarging outside of the markings. Occasionally, the lymph node will need to be drained surgically.

  • Follow-up visit

    All children with lymph node infections should see their doctor within 2 to 3 days of beginning treatment to make sure the lymph node is getting better.

When should I call the doctor?


  • Your child has a new high fever of 102F (39C) or higher.
  • Your child has any trouble swallowing liquids or breathing.
  • The lymph node is rapidly enlarging even though your child is taking antibiotics.
  • Your child starts to act very sick.

Call within 24 hours if:

  • The lymph node is becoming soft in the middle.
  • The swelling is enlarging after 48 hours of antibiotics and your child is not getting better.
  • You have other questions or concerns.
Written by the Section of Pediatric Emergency Medicine, The Children's Hospital, Denver.
Published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2009-12-10
Last reviewed: 2009-11-05
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
2010 RelayHealth and/or its affiliates. All Rights Reserved.
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