Symptoms A-Z

Swollen Neck Symptoms, Causes & Common Questions

Understand your swollen neck symptoms, including 9 causes & common questions.

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Contents

  1. 9 Possible Swollen Neck Causes
  2. Questions Your Doctor May Ask
  3. Statistics

9 Possible Swollen Neck Causes

The list below shows results from the use of our quiz by Buoy users who experienced swollen neck. This list does not constitute medical advice and may not accurately represent what you have.

Retropharyngeal abscess (adult)

Retropharyngeal abscess is a collection of pus in the tissues in the back of the throat. It is a potentially life-threatening medical condition.

Rarity: Ultra rare

Top Symptoms: sore throat, loss of appetite, fever, shortness of breath, being severely ill

Urgency: Hospital emergency room

Rheumatoid arthritis

Arthritis is a general term for multiple conditions that cause painful inflammation and stiffness throughout the body. Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic condition that is autoimmune in nature, meaning that the body's immune system which normally protects the body by attacking foreign pathogens mistakenly begins attacking the own body's tissues. In adults, RA is the most common form of inflammatory arthritis caused by autoimmunity.

RA is caused by the immune system attacking the lining of the joints (synovium). This immune activity results in inflammation in the synovium that causes it to thicken and expand. The thickening destroys the cartilage and bone of the joint and causes the tendons and ligaments of the joint to weaken and stretch.

Over time, the cartilage loss continues, the space between bones becomes smaller, and eventually the joint becomes loose, painful and unstable. As the condition becomes more advanced, RA can also affect multiple organ systems, including the eyes, skin, lungs and the cardiovascular system.

Diagnosis is through physical examination, blood tests, and X-rays.

Treatments include lifestyle modifications, several classes of medications, and sometimes surgery.

Rarity: Rare

Top Symptoms: fatigue, depressed mood, joint pain, muscle aches, daytime sleepiness

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Cellulitis

Cellulitis is a bacterial infection of the deep layers of the skin. It can appear anywhere on the body but is most common on the feet, lower legs, and face.

The condition can develop if Staphylococcus bacteria enter broken skin through a cut, scrape, or existing skin infection such as impetigo or eczema.

Most susceptible are those with a weakened immune system, as from corticosteroids or chemotherapy, or with impaired circulation from diabetes or any vascular disease.

Symptoms arise somewhat gradually and include sore, reddened skin.

If not treated, the infection can become severe, form pus, and destroy the tissue around it. In rare cases, the infection can cause blood poisoning or meningitis.

Symptom of severe pain, fever, cold sweats, and fast heartbeat should be seen immediately by a medical provider.

Diagnosis is made through physical examination.

Treatment consists of antibiotics, keeping the wound clean, and sometimes surgery to remove any dead tissue. Cellulitis often recurs, so it is important to treat any underlying conditions and improve the immune system with rest and good nutrition.

Rarity: Uncommon

Top Symptoms: fever, chills, facial redness, swollen face, face pain

Symptoms that always occur with cellulitis: facial redness, area of skin redness

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Acute thyroiditis

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

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Ludwig's angina

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 then quickly spreads to the area around the jaw on both sides of the face. Ludwig's angina is considered a medical emergency due to risks of impaired breathing.

Symptoms include fever and chills, mouth pain, a swollen tongue, a stiff neck, drooling and trouble swallowing, a muffled voice or trouble speaking and breathing.

Treatments include antibiotics, surgery to remove infection, and the installation of a tube to assist with breathing in severe cases.

Rarity: Rare

Top Symptoms: shortness of breath, fever, being severely ill, trouble swallowing, neck pain

Urgency: Hospital emergency room

Overactive thyroid

The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland in the neck, just above your collarbone. It is one of your endocrine glands, which make hormones. Thyroid glands control how fast one burns calories and how fast the heart beats. If the thyroid is too active, it makes more thyroid hormones than the body needs. This is called hyperthyroidism.

Rarity: Uncommon

Top Symptoms: fatigue, anxiety, depressed mood, irritability, trouble sleeping

Urgency: Primary care doctor

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.

Rarity: Rare

Top Symptoms: loss of appetite, unintentional weight loss, hoarse voice, neck bump, ear canal pain

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Viral throat infection

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 adults.

Symptoms include a sore throat, fever, fatigue, congestion, runny nose, cough, or others depending on the specific virus. Less common symptoms that sometimes present in children include fluid-filled bumps on the hands, feet, or mouth, or, in adults, painful mouth ulcers.

Treatment focuses on rest, hydration, and over-the-counter methods to alleviate symptoms. Some cases require antiviral medications.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: sore throat, cough, congestion, fever, hoarse voice

Symptoms that always occur with viral throat infection: sore throat

Symptoms that never occur with viral throat infection: being severely ill

Urgency: Self-treatment

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.

Rarity: Common

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

Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Swollen Neck

To diagnose this condition, your doctor would likely ask the following questions:

  • 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?
  • Are you drooling?

The above questions are also covered by our A.I. Health Assistant.

If you've answered yes to one or more of these questions

Take a quiz to find out why you're having swollen neck

Swollen Neck Symptom Checker Statistics

People who have experienced swollen neck have also experienced:

  • 5% Neck Bump
  • 4% Sore Throat
  • 4% Swollen Face

People who have experienced swollen neck were most often matched with:

  • 46% Retropharyngeal Abscess (Adult)
  • 30% Cellulitis
  • 23% Rheumatoid Arthritis

People who have experienced swollen neck had symptoms persist for:

  • 33% Less than a week
  • 25% Over a month
  • 24% Less than a day

Source: Aggregated and anonymized results from visits to the Buoy AI health assistant (check it out by clicking on “Take Quiz”).

Swollen Neck Symptom Checker

Take a quiz to find out why you're having swollen neck