Can Seasonal Allergies Cause Swollen Lymph Nodes?


Do allergies cause swollen lymph nodes?

While it is uncommon for seasonal or environmental allergies to cause swollen lymph nodes, if you have severe allergies you might occasionally experience this side effect. However, it is more likely that your swollen lymph nodes are the result of an infection.

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It’s allergy season, and you’re coughing, sneezing, congested, and have a scratchy throat – that’s not unusual. But the tender, bean-sized lumps you found on both sides of your neck are. You’ve never had them with allergies before, so what’s going on?

If you’ve had swollen lymph nodes in the past, you know they can be uncomfortable. They usually accompany upper respiratory infections and mononucleosis. But if it’s allergy season and your other symptoms feel like your allergies, you may wonder, can seasonal allergies cause swollen lymph nodes in the neck?

You might be surprised by the answer.

What Are Seasonal Allergies?

Seasonal allergies are caused by specific allergens in your environment, such as pollen from grasses, trees, and weeds. If you have allergies, your immune system overreacts when exposed to an allergen. Your body initiates a defense response to the allergen and releases histamine to fight it off.

If you have seasonal allergies, you’ve probably noticed they kick in at a particular time of year. Seasonal allergies affect most people in the spring or fall but aren’t limited to one season. You can have seasonal allergies any time of year, although they’re less common in winter.

You can experience allergy symptoms year-round depending on where you live and what triggers your allergies. Typically indoor allergens like dust mites, mold, and pet dander, will cause year-round allergies.

Common Allergy Symptoms

Seasonal allergy symptoms can be similar to those of a sinus infection. They range from mild to severe and can differ from person to person. Your allergy symptoms may start or worsen at a particular time of year, depending on what you’re allergic to. Common allergy symptoms include:

  • Congestion
  • Coughing
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Itchy, red, or watery eyes
  • Itchy throat, nose, or roof of the mouth
  • Post-nasal drip
  • Runny nose
  • Plugged ears
  • Sinus pressure
  • Sneezing
  • Dark circles under the eyes

Seasonal allergy symptoms typically develop abruptly when you are exposed to an allergy trigger and will usually improve once no longer exposed. Over-the-counter (OTC) allergy medications like nasal sprays, antihistamines, and decongestants can often provide short-term relief from these symptoms. When your symptoms don’t respond to OTC medications, you might want to try a long-term solution like sublingual immunotherapy.

What Are Lymph Nodes?

Lymph nodes are small, pea-sized glands in your immune system that have a big job. They filter out bacteria, viruses, and other substances that can make you sick. Your lymph nodes also make immune cells that help your body fight off disease and infection.

Our bodies have around 600 lymph nodes, but the exact number differs from person to person. Most nodes are located deep inside your body where you can’t feel them, but some are closer to the surface of your skin. You can often feel swollen lymph nodes in the groin, armpits, and neck when you are sick.

What Do Swollen Lymph Nodes Mean?

When lymph nodes discover bacteria or other foreign substances, they ramp up their production of white blood cells to fight it, and that causes them to swell. This is a good sign. It means that your immune system is protecting you from an invader.

Lymph nodes tend to swell close to the source of the infection, where they work the hardest. Upper respiratory infections, for example, cause lymph nodes in the neck to swell.

Usually, swollen lymph nodes are caused by infections and return to normal in a few weeks. However, there are other, more alarming causes of swollen lymph nodes, so you should always take them seriously.

Do Allergies Cause Lymph Nodes to Swell?

While rare, children or adults with severe allergies can occasionally get swollen lymph nodes. If you have swollen lymph nodes and seasonal allergies, you might assume your allergies are to blame. However, it’s more likely you’re fighting an infection that has caused your lymph nodes to swell.

Allergies and infections share many of the same symptoms, which can create confusion between the two. Symptoms such as headache, congestion, cough, and sore throat can be signs of either condition. The difference is seasonal allergies likely won’t cause fever or swollen lymph nodes.

Sometimes an infection is an indirect result of allergies. If your allergies cause sinus congestion, fluid buildup in your sinus cavities can allow bacteria or viruses to grow. It’s possible your lymph nodes could become swollen as a result of fighting that infection.

How to Treat Swollen Lymph Nodes

Swollen lymph nodes usually improve when the underlying cause of infection is treated. Once treated, it can take more than two weeks for your lymph nodes to shrink back to normal size.

In the meantime, you can ease any discomfort by taking OTC pain relievers and applying a warm compress to the area. It also helps to get plenty of rest and drink a lot of fluids. In some cases, you may need to see a doctor to determine the best treatment.

You should call your doctor for an appointment if your lymph nodes:

  • Aren’t back to normal in two to four weeks
  • Come with night sweats, unexpected weight loss, or a fever
  • Feel hard
  • Keep getting bigger

An infection left untreated can cause an abscess, so it is important to get the proper treatment.

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