To answer this question, let’s first review some basic anatomy and physiology. The human body has several systems that work together so that your body can function and carry out everyday activities.
One of those systems is the lymphatic system, which is a major part of the immune system. The lymphatic system and the immune system work together to defend the body against infection and disease.
The lymphatic system is made up of many parts, including the lymph nodes which aid in cleansing the lymphatic fluid and making immune system cells to fight infection. When lymph nodes are swollen it means that the body is fighting off an infection.
If you suffer from allergies you may be wondering if allergies can cause swollen lymph nodes.
The short answer is yes it is possible that allergies could cause swollen lymph nodes but it is not probable and it depends on the type of allergy you are referring to. Read on to dive deeper into the topic of allergies and lymph nodes.
What are Lymph Nodes?
Lymph nodes are a part of the lymphatic system of the body. According to the Cleveland Clinic, the lymphatic system has four key functions which include,
- Protecting the body from illness and foreign invaders
- Maintaining body fluid levels
- Absorbing digestive tract fats
- Removing cellular waste and abnormal cells from lymph
To accomplish those roles the lymphatic system consists of tissues, vessels, and organs. According to the Cleveland Clinic, “Some 20 liters of palm flow through your body’s arteries and smaller arteriole blood vessels and capillaries every day.
After delivering nutrients to the body’s cells and tissues and receiving their waste products, about 17 liters are returned to the circulation by the way of veins. The remaining three liters seep through the capillaries and into your body’s tissues. The lymphatic system collects this excess fluid, now called lymph, from tissues in your body and moves it along until it’s ultimately returned to your bloodstream” 1.
The lymph is also referred to as lymphatic fluid. It is the extra fluid that has drained from the cells and tissues. It can carry other components along with it such as cells, protein, fat, minerals, nutrients, foreign invaders that cause illness, and more.
The lymph nodes are small glands that are used to filter the lymphatic fluid. Lymph nodes’ key functions include filtering the lymphatic fluid and producing and storing lymphocytes and other immune system cells to fight off infection and disease.
There are approximately 600 lymph nodes throughout the body. They are physically described as being the size of a pea and shaped like a kidney bean. They are connected to each other by lymphatic vessels throughout the body.
The most common locations of lymph nodes in the body are the armpits, groin, and neck.
What Causes Swollen Lymph Nodes?
Swollen and enlarged lymph nodes are referred to as lymphadenopathy. Lymph nodes become swollen when the body is fighting an infection, inflammation, or cancer.
Do Allergies Cause Swollen Lymph Nodes?
Allergy sufferers may wonder if allergies can cause swollen lymph nodes. According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology, allergies affect an estimated 40 – 50 million people in the United States 3.
Allergies can exist in many different forms. When a person has allergies, it is the body’s way of reacting to something it does not like. The type and severity of allergies are different for everyone. Common allergens include pollen, food, dander, molds, dust, and materials. Two types of common allergies that we will discuss here are seasonal allergies and food allergies.
Seasonal allergies are only present during certain times of the year. That is why they are referred to as ‘seasonal’. The timing and severity of seasonal allergies will depend on where you live. Throughout the year there are seasonal changes to the environment and its components including weather, plants, and trees. If you are allergic to a specific allergen that is prevalent during a specific time of year, you will likely have seasonal allergies.
For example, ragweed pollen levels are usually high during September, if you are allergic to ragweed you will likely have seasonal allergies during September when ragweed pollen levels are high.
Although it is not common, seasonal allergies could indirectly contribute to swollen lymph nodes. It is possible but not probable. In the majority of cases, if your lymph nodes are swollen and you have allergies, it is likely you also have something else going on. Swollen lymph nodes are caused by infection, inflammation, or cancer.
Allergist and immunologist Dr. Purvi Parikh was quoted by Prevention as saying “Anything that activates the immune system can cause swollen lymph nodes… That said, it’s not a typical symptom and it is unlikely that seasonal allergies would cause someone to have swollen lymph nodes…The only time that would happen is if your allergies are very severe” 5.
In the same article discussing allergies and swollen lymph nodes, Dr. Omid Mehdizadeh who is an otolaryngologist and laryngologist at Providence Saint John’s Health Center, says “It is more common, though, to develop swollen lymph nodes as part of a secondary infection from your allergies, like a sinus infection” 5.
Regarding food allergies causing swollen lymph nodes, there is no strong research on the topic but it does not seem that food allergies will cause swollen lymph nodes. According to Dr. Alice Hoyt of foodallergyandyourkiddo.com, “Food allergies do not cause swollen lymph nodes. Lymph nodes do not enlarge in people with food allergies who are avoiding their allergens, and swollen lymph nodes are not a sign of an allergic reaction” 4.
How to Treat Swollen Lymph Nodes From Allergies?
If you have swollen lymph nodes it is a sign that something is going on internally and your body is trying to fight it. The key to treating swollen lymph nodes is to find the underlying cause that is making the lymph nodes swell.
If you believe your swollen lymph nodes are caused by allergies, taking an allergy medication should help. If that does not help, then you should see a doctor to help figure out what is the cause of your swollen lymph nodes and the treatment that is needed.
When to See a Doctor?
You should see a doctor if any of your lymph nodes are swollen, tender, or hard. If the cause of the swollen lymph nodes is not a common cold or allergies, there could be something more serious going on that requires medical intervention.
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It is possible but not probable that seasonal allergies are causing swollen lymph nodes. If your lymph nodes are swollen you likely have some type of infection. You should see a doctor if your lymph nodes are swollen, tender, or hard.
- 1. Lymphatic system: Parts & Common Problems. Cleveland Clinic. (n.d.). Retrieved July 14, 2022, from https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/21199-lymphatic-system
- 2. Lymph node function & location. Cleveland Clinic. (n.d.). Retrieved July 14, 2022, from https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/body/23131-lymph-nodes
- 3. Nadolpho. (2022, April 13). Allergic conditions. ACAAI Public Website. Retrieved July 14, 2022, from https://acaai.org/allergies/allergic-conditions/
- 4. Hoyt, A. (2022, May 2). Can allergies cause swollen lymph nodes? here’s the answer! Food Allergy and Your Kiddo. Retrieved July 14, 2022, from https://foodallergyandyourkiddo.com/can-allergies-cause-swollen-lymph-nodes-heres-the-answer/
- 5. Miller, K. (2021, November 2). Can allergies cause swollen lymph nodes? it’s possible, but not super common. Prevention. Retrieved July 14, 2022, from https://www.prevention.com/health/a35602003/swollen-lymph-nodes-allergies/