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When to Worry About Bumps on the Neck

by Sue Hubbard, M.D.

Have you ever been bathing your child and washing their head and neck and suddenly felt little “lumps or bumps” about he size of a pea or dime on their necks? It makes your hand stop for a minute as you feel this small marble and of course “terrible thoughts” race through your mind. Well, it is not uncommon to feel these little lumps on a child’s neck.Especially if your child is thin and they may have their neck extended for you to get underneath their chin for a thorough washing. The head and neck area is full of tiny lymph nodes and they are sometimes easily felt. Just because you can feel a lymph node does not mean you need to worry!

Benign lymphadenopathy, as it is called in medical jargon is quite common. The lymph nodes of the neck “drain” the head and are often palpable around the jaw line, behind the ear, or even at the back of the neck. Benign (meaning, not to worry) nodes are small, mobile (in other words move around like a ball), non tender, and do not appear to be red or inflamed on the surface of the skin. These nodes are usually pretty small, again like a pea or dime. If your child is sick with a cold or has a “zit” on their face or a mosquito bite in their scalp etc, the node or nodes in fact may be a little bigger and some kids may say it is a little tender to the touch, (usually only to the mother’s hand as when I feel them of course they say “they no longer hurt“). That is like taking the car to the shop, gets better once you are there and have waited your turn!

Most notably about benign lymphadenopathy is that the node does not really change. You watch it for several days and it is still small, non-tender and mobile and then forget about it for a while. In most cases by the time you think to check it again it is gone. The node should not grow in size, become hard and fixed (again you want it to move around beneath your fingers) and should remain asymptomatic.

So, don’t jump to conclusions if you feel one of these and if in doubt let your doctor feel it. We all also have nodes beneath our arms, and in the groin area. Same thing goes for those in most cases, check to see if there is a cut, scratch, or bite nearby and watch the node for a few days. Things that are changing are worth a trip to the pediatrician. Peace of mind is often worth the wait.

That’s your daily dose, we’ll chat again tomorrow.

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