Neck Swelling on One Side Symptoms, Causes & Common Questions
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Understand your neck swelling on one side symptoms, including 7 causes and common questions.
Neck swelling on one side symptoms
Swelling is the result of fluid buildup that gets trapped in your body's tissues. Most people first notice swelling because the affected body part may appear larger than normal. Swelling on one side of the neck can be especially concerning because in most cases it forms a lump that is hard to miss.
Neck swelling on one side can signal a variety of different causes and may be associated with symptoms such as:
- Night sweats
- Shortness of breath
- Unintentional weight loss
- Upper respiratory symptoms: A runny nose, sore throat, or a cough.
- Difficulty swallowing
If you experience unilateral neck swelling and any of the associated symptoms, make an appointment with your healthcare provider promptly.
Neck swelling on one side causes
Any condition that causes an accumulation of fluid in the tissues and organs of the neck can result in unilateral swelling. These conditions can range in severity, so it is important to follow up with your healthcare provider on symptoms.
Inflammatory causes of neck swelling on one side may be related to the following.
- Infectious: There are many bacterial and viral pathogens that can infect the organs of the neck and mouth that can result in swelling on one side of the neck. For example, swollen salivary glands including the parotid gland, though situated in the lower mouth/jaw, can look like a neck lump depending on the extent of the swelling. Infections in this area can also result in cysts and abscesses that may present as neck swelling as well.
- Lymphatics: The lymphatic system is anetwork of organs, vessels, and glands throughout the body important for immune function. The glands of the system, also called lymph nodes, function to filter and trap viruses, bacteria and other pathogens before they can spread and infect other parts of the body. They play an important role in your body's ability to fight infection and often swell in the setting of inflammatory conditions, including infections.
The thyroid is a gland in the neck important for secreting hormones that regulate metabolism, growth, and how your body uses energy throughout life. Its prominent location in the neck makes it a very common cause of neck swelling when it becomes inflamed, enlarged or damaged. Many conditions and even factors related to your diet can cause this gland to enlarge, sometimes resulting in swelling on one side of the neck.
A swelling on one side of the neck is frightening because it may signal a cancerous process. In general, any growth is the result of cells dividing and growing uncontrollably. Sometimes there
is a genetic mutation in DNA or a specific protein, or failure in an important checkpoint that results in this unchecked growth. These abnormal cells accumulate to form a noticeable lump that can be either benign or malignant (spread throughout the body).
- Lymphatics: The lymphatic system is susceptible to cancer. Cancers of this system are called lymphomas and there are many different types. Lymphomas often occur in the lymph nodes of the neck and can grow very rapidly, causing massive swelling and associated symptoms of fatigue, night sweats, and unintentional weight loss.
- Other: The other organs of the neck are also susceptible to the development of cancer. Anything from the nasal cavity to the larynx can develop cancer, especially in individuals who smoke or abuse alcohol.
7 conditions of neck swelling on one side
This list does not constitute medical advice and may not accurately represent what you have.
Acute thyroiditis is a rare inflammation of the thyroid gland caused by an infection, radiation, medication, or trauma.
Rarity: Ultra rare
Top Symptoms: sore throat, fever, being severely ill, hoarse voice, pain in the front of the neck
Symptoms that always occur with acute thyroiditis: pain in the front of the neck
Urgency: Hospital emergency room
Ludwig's angina is a rare but serious infection of the space below the jaw and the floor of the mouth, under the tongue. This illness is not to be confused with "angina" which refers to cardiac pain due to coronary artery disease. The infection usually starts in the floor of the mouth th..
The thyroid is a small, bow-tie shaped gland in your neck. Its main job is to produce thyroid hormone (known as T3 or T4), which serves a wide array of functions throughout the body.
When too much thyroid hormone is released, the body’s metabolism gets ramped up, causing symptoms ...
Enlarged lymph nodes in the neck
Enlarged lymph nodes occur when the node becomes larger as it fills with inflammatory cells. This often is a result of an infection but can occur without a known cause.
Top Symptoms: neck bump, movable neck lump
Symptoms that always occur with enlarged lymph nodes in the neck: neck bump
Symptoms that never occur with enlarged lymph nodes in the neck:unintentional weight loss, fever, hard neck lump
Urgency: Phone call or in-person visit
Head and neck cancer
There are five main types of head and neck cancer, which are all named according to the part of the body where they develop: laryngeal (voice box), nasal cavity and sinus, nasopharyngeal (air passage way behind the nose), oral (mouth), and salivary gland cancers. Most of these cancers are squamous cell carcinomas (SCCs), meaning they begin in the flat (squamous) cells that make up the thin surface layer of the structures in the head and neck.
Top Symptoms: loss of appetite, unintentional weight loss, hoarse voice, neck bump, ear canal pain
Urgency: Primary care doctor
A viral throat infection is an infection of the throat, or pharynx, that is caused by viruses. Viruses are different from bacteria such as Streptococcus pyogenes (which causes "strep throat"). Viral infections are the most common cause of sore throats in children and adu..
Tooth abscess (infection)
A tooth abscess is a collection of infected material (pus) in the center of a tooth. It is due to bacterial infection.
Top Symptoms: severe jaw or tooth pain, swollen jaw, jaw stiffness, tooth pain that gets worse with hot, cold, or sweet beverages, warm and red jaw swelling
Symptoms that always occur with tooth abscess (infection): severe jaw or tooth pain
Urgency: Primary care doctor
Neck swelling on one side treatments and relief
Treatment for neck swelling on one side will depend on the specific cause. Your healthcare provider may make the following suggestions/treatments in the setting of neck swelling.
- Antibiotics: If your symptoms are due to a bacterial cause, your physician will prescribe the appropriate antibiotics to combat your condition. It is important to take your antibiotics as prescribed in order to gain adequate treatment.
- Supportive care: Many causes of enlarged lymph nodes may be viral in nature. Viral causes will not resolve with antibiotics, and your physician will most likely suggest supportive remedies, such as resting or pain relief if that is the case.
- Surgery: If your thyroid has enlarged to the point that it causes difficulty swallowing or unnecessary discomfort, it may be treated with surgical removal. Depending on how much of the thyroid is removed, you may need to take a supplement to replace the hormone (levothyroxine) normally made by the organ.
- Cancer treatment: Lymphoma treatment may involve chemotherapy, immunotherapy medications, radiation therapy, a bone marrow transplant, or some combination of these. Other cancer treatments involve similar treatment modalities as well.
FAQs about neck swelling on one side
Here are some frequently asked questions about neck swelling on one side.
Why is only one side of my neck swollen?
The unilateral nature of your neck swelling may signal different things depending on the cause. For example, the swelling can be one-sided because the lymph nodes on that particular side are more activated in comparison to the other. In the same vein, a salivary gland on only one side may be infected. When the thyroid gland is involved, at times it may enlarge asymmetrically and cause swelling on one side more than the other.
How long will the swelling on my neck last?
The duration of the swelling is dependent on the root cause. For example, swollen lymph nodes due to infectious causes often resolve once the illness resolves. With causes that are related to the thyroid or cancerous processes, the resolution is often dependent on specific treatment.
Will the swelling spread to other parts of my body?
In cases of aggressive lymphoma, swelling and involvement of the lymph nodes or other organs of the lymphatic system can spread throughout the body.
Does lymphoma spread quickly?
Lymphomas can be divided into different types. The most common categorization are Non-Hodgkin lymphoma vs. Hodgkin lymphoma. Hodgkin lymphomas can often spread very quickly and the signs and associated symptoms, such as night sweats or weight loss, can be very severe.
Does lymphoma go into remission?
According to Lymphoma-action.org, for most people lymphoma will never relapse after successful treatment. The goal of treatment, especially for low-grade lymphomas, is remission. If you have a good remission, you are likely to have a longer time before your lymphoma relapses.
Questions your doctor may ask about neck swelling on one side
- If you touch the swollen area, is there pain?
- Do food or drinks get stuck when you swallow?
- Any fever today or during the last week?
- Did you recently injure your neck?
Self-diagnose with our free Buoy Assistant if you answer yes on any of these questions.
Dr. Gambrah-Lyles is a resident pediatrician at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. She is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine (2019). She graduated cum laude and received her undergraduate degree in Biochemistry and Spanish from Washington University in St. Louis (2013). Her research explores the intersections between neurology, public health, and infectious disease. She has investigated nutrition and cerebral palsy in Botswana, and completed a year-long project in Brazil, researching growth and developmental outcomes of Zika virus infection in pediatric patients as a Doris Duke International Scholar. Dr. Gambrah-Lyles speaks four languages, loves staying active, and enjoys sharing her love for medicine through teaching and writing.
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