There are very few lymph nodes on the head, but they are necessary to the lymphatic system, which is part of the immune system. They work with the nodes in the neck and jaw to assist in filtering lymph from the head. Ailments and injuries of the head and face can cause these lymph nodes to swell up and become painful. Often they will return to normal size within a week or two when the cause is nothing serious. The function of the nodes is to filter out bacteria, viruses, dead cells, and other debris in the lymph.
The Nodes that Filter Lymph from the Head
Of the 500-600 lymph nodes located throughout the body, about a handful of them are located in the head. The lymph from the head is filtered through them with the help of the following lymph nodes:
- Occipital – three nodes on the back of the head/neck
- Postauricular – two nodes located behind each ear on skull
- Paratid – nodes in saliva gland located directly in front of ear and behind ear
- Buccinator – nodes near mouth
- Nasolabial – two nodes located on both sides of nostrils near upper lip
- Mandibular and submental – nodes that are along the jawline
The lymph nodes on the head, including the face, work with the neck lymph nodes to filter the lymph from the head. These nodes may regularly swell in people that have chronic infections.
Causes of Swelling and Enlargement
Any infection in the head, throat, eye, nose, scalp, face, gums, and nasal cavities can cause the nodes located in the head to swell, become inflamed, and sore. Sometimes the infection may be obvious and sometimes the first sign of illness or disease is when the enlarged lymph nodes are noticed.
The infection may be minor like an acne infection, or it may be serious like a MRSA (methicillin-resistantStaphylococcus aureus) infection. Other than frequent infections, these are other causes of node swelling:
- Hodgkins disease
- Non-Hodgkins disease
- Cat Scratch disease
- Injury or trauma
Only a healthcare professional can determine the cause of lymph node problems. If the nodes return to normal size after a short period, it means that the body took care of the problem that caused the swelling. Knowing when to see a doctor is important to prompt treatment of serious illnesses.
Prevention For Swelling
The head is exposed to possible infection from haircuts, shaving, and tweezing. One of the easiest ways to prevent overloading the lymph nodes in the head is to use clean personal care items and only have cutting and shaving done with sanitized equipment. Dental care should be done with properly sanitized or disposable equipment. Personal care items like toothbrushes and razors should never be shared.
When They Should be Checked by a Doctor
If you have any concern or “feeling” something isn’t right it is important to see a healthcare professional to either confirm or relieve your fears (Swollen glands – nhs.uk). Though often swollen lymph nodes are just part of normal activity of the immune system it can also be a symptom of a serious infection, illness, or disease. These are signs that lymph nodes on the head need to be checked by a doctor:
When they have been swollen for over two weeks, or there are other symptoms of illness present a physician will need to be consulted to rule out or diagnose a health condition that will need medical treatment.
It is not common for the nodes on the head to be noticed but when they are they should be checked if they show signs of being overwhelmed and swell up.