The occipital lymph nodes are located on the back of the neck near the skull.

Lymph nodes are part of the lymph system, and they filter debris and destroy harmful organisms in the lymph. The occipital lymph nodes are only about three of the hundreds in the body working together in an intricate balance with other systems in the body.

Each lymph node has a specific purpose depending on where it is located on the body. The occipital goal is to drain lymph from the scalp and nearby areas. When they swell, it can be a sign of infection of the scalp or adjacent area.


The occipital lymph nodes are located at the back of the neck near where the neck and head connect. There are up to three lymph nodes in this location. They are found near the muscles between the head and neck. They will swell when they are overwhelmed with debris drained from the scalp.

Cancer is very rarely spread to other parts of the body from these lymph nodes even though cancer may metastasize to these nodes. Metastasis (What is metastatic cancer?) is when the cells move from the original location to a new and distant place on the body.

Another – Tonsillar Lymph Nodes

Causes Of Swelling

These lymph nodes rarely swell because of cancer. More commonly, the lymph nodes in this area of the neck will grow due to the following conditions on the scalp:

  • Infection
  • Bug bite
  • Infected abrasion, cut, or puncture
  • Fungal infection
  • Ringworm
  • Lice
  • Dandruff

Occasionally the occipital lymph nodes will swell due to ear infections, throat infections, and rubella.

Swelling Treatment

Before treatment for occipital lymph node swelling, the cause will need to be determined. Infections are often treated with antibiotics. If the disease doesn’t respond to antibiotic treatment, it may be an MRSA infection, and further testing will need to be done to determine the most effective treatment.

Anti-fungal creams and treatments will be used to treat funguses. The scalp will need to be treated for lice or ringworm when that is the cause of the swollen lymph nodes. In the rare event that cancer is the cause of the swelling, the origin of cancer will need to be found and treated along with the removal of the affected lymph nodes.

Another Type – Submandibular Lymph Nodes

Unhealthy Occipital Nodes

Swelling is one of the signs that the lymph nodes are doing their job of cleaning and filtering lymph (Learn about the Importance of a Healthy Lymphatic System – Most of the time, the lymph nodes will swell and return to normal within a couple of weeks. Signs that you should see a healthcare professional about swollen occipital lymph nodes:

  • Stay swollen for a month
  • Grow to an inch or more
  • Continue to grow
  • Accompanied by an intermittent fever
  • There are night sweats

If you don’t feel right about the swollen occipital lymph nodes, you should follow your instincts and get them checked. If you are not happy with the treatment or diagnosis, get a second opinion.


Only a doctor can diagnose the cause of swollen occipital lymph nodes, but commonly it is a sign of a curable infection of the scalp.