Swollen Occipital Lymph Nodes: Causes, Diagnosis and Treatments

Your body has various systems and mechanisms in place that ensure a healthy living. The lymphatic system is one of such systems. The lymphatic system is composed of lymph nodes, spread throughout your body and has great importance of your health. Lymph nodes are kidney-shaped structures and are located across your body, linked with the circulatory system of your body through the lymphatic vessels. The lymphatic system is associated with the production of lymphocytes. Lymphocytes are white blood cells and form the most basic and fundamental defense system of your body against bacteria and viruses.

The lymphatic system is an important component of your body’s immune system.

human lymphatic system

Occipital Lymph Nodes

The occipital lymph nodes are an important part of the lymphatic system and are located in the occipital region of your head. This region is located at the back side of your skull. Occipital lymph nodes are helpful in defending and filtering the harmful substances that are headed towards your scalp. If you have swollen occipital lymph nodes, it indicated that you are suffering from some disease. Most common causes are bacterial and viral infections. Swollen occipital lymph nodes can get really painful sometimes because of the compression in the nearby areas. This pain can impact your daily life, making it hard for you to give your hundred percent.

In medical terms, swollen occipital lymph nodes are known as lymphadenopathy. In this article, we will analyze the causes behind the swelling of occipital lymph nodes, how your doctor can diagnose and what are the possible treatments for this condition.

Causes of Swollen Occipital Lymph Nodes

In most of the causes, the swelling is a result of inflammation. Inflammation of occipital lymph nodes can happen due to the following reasons.

Bacterial Infection

The most common cause behind the swelling of occipital lymph nodes is bacterial infections. Bacteria such as staphylococcus and streptococcus are the common infecting agents for the swelling. Bacterial ear infection can also become the reason behind the swelling of occipital lymph nodes. Ear infections can also cause hearing problems and drainage from your ears. Bacterial infections of your scalp can also cause the occipital lymph nodes to swell because of the accumulation of debris and toxic elements. Sometimes, dandruff, lice, and ringworms can also lead to the swelling of occipital lymph nodes.

Sexually Transmitted Diseases

STDs can also be a reason behind the swelling of lymph nodes. Infections like HIV, mononucleosis (kissing disease: transmitted through saliva) and syphilis can are the most common STDs that can cause the swelling of lymph nodes throughout the body. The kissing disease affects the occipital lymph nodes most commonly. It can also cause health conditions like fever, sore throat, fatigue and white patches on the tonsils.

Fungal Infections

Fungal infection of your scalp can lead to swelling of occipital lymph nodes.  Other than swelled occipital lymph nodes, you may undergo symptoms like dandruff, itching of scalp, yellow crusts on your scalp and hair loss.

Tonsillitis

Located at the back of the mouth and at the top of the throat, tonsils are a type of lymph nodes that can get infected and swelled. Sometimes the infection can be so severe that tonsils have to be removed for your safety. If the infection spreads, swollen tonsils can also cause the occipital lymph nodes to swell. Swollen tonsils can cause fever, pain in ears and difficulty in swallowing.

Throat Infections

When your throat is infected, the chances of getting swollen occipital lymph nodes increase manifold. Throat infections are characterized by sore throats, irritation, feeling of discomfort, and difficulty in swallowing. Throat infections are usually a result of a bacterial and viral attack.

Ear and Eye Infections

Your ears are located close to the occipital lymph nodes. An infection in the ear can spread abruptly to occipital lymph nodes if it is not treated immediately and properly. Infections in the ear are caused by bacteria and viruses.

Eye infections usually cause the swelling of lymph nodes and the eyes to become extremely red and watery. Sometime occipital lymph nodes are also impacted due to eye infections.

Transplant Problems

In order for the transplant of an organ to be successful, the donor and recipient must have the same immunological characteristics. If they are not immunologically compatible, the lymph nodes may get swelled as a result and it can cause some serious problems for the recipient. Therefore it is very important that the recipient observes his lymph nodes and stays in touch with the doctor.

Genetic Lipid Storage Disease

A genetically transformed disorder which is characterized by extra fatty substances such as cholesterol, triglycerides, and lipoproteins can cause the swelling of lymph nodes. This swelling can also reach your occipital lymph nodes. This disease can also cause atherosclerosis and heart disease. Lipid disorders can also be caused by a high-fat diet and diabetics.

Cancer

Swollen occipital lymph nodes can also be an indication of cancer of the lymphatic system. Though it is very rare, medical research has indicated that it is possible.

Sarcoidosis

A rare condition which is characterized by tiny collections of inflammatory cells called granulomas. Mostly this collection occurs at lungs, lymph nodes, skin, and eyes. It causes the body’ immune system to respond to an unknown substance and there is no known cure for this disease.

Symptoms of Swollen Occipital Lymph Nodes

distribution of lymphatic capillaries

Swollen nymph lodes are a sign that your health is not doing well. It indicated that something is wrong inside your body. On the onset of swelling, following symptoms appear

  • Pain in the occipital lymph nodes
  • Tenderness in the area
  • Swelling is usually the size of a pea or a kidney bean and it can get larger as well.

Other than these symptoms, you may notice the following problems with your health as well.

  • Runny nose
  • Throat infections and sore throat
  • Fever

When to see a Doctor

The swollen occipital nymph lodes usually return to the normal size after the underlying problem goes away or gets better. However, you need to visit your doctor if your lymph nodes got swelled due to no apparent reason and your health is fine otherwise, if the swelling last more than two weeks, the nodes get hard and do not move when you touch them and are accompanied by chronic fever, sudden weight loss, and sweating during night time.

Diagnosis

If you feel like that all of the above scenarios given in the above paragraph are present in your case, you must visit your doctor on an urgent basis. The diagnosis will be based on the following

Medical History – Your doctor will need your complete medical history, and will want to know that how the swollen lymph nodes developed and for how long they have been swollen.

Physical Examination – Your doctor will do a physical examination of the swollen occipital lymph nodes to check the size, sensitivity, warmth, and texture. This examination offers clues to your doctor to pinpoint the exact cause.

Blood Tests – The blood test is the next step. These blood tests are carried out to either confirm or reject a medical condition that your doctor is concerned about. The specific tests depend on the exact nature of the swollen occipital lymph nodes, but the most common test is the complete blood count (CBC) test. It helps doctors to evaluate your overall health condition and the count of lymphocytes in the blood.

X-rays – Your doctor might want to run an x-ray or use other imaging techniques of the occipital region to detect the nature and shape of the swollen lymph nodes.

Lymph Node Biopsy – This is the most extreme step and is usually carried out to rule out or confirm the case of cancer. The doctor will remove a sample from the lymph node and get it tested from a lab.

Treatment

The best way to deal with swollen occipital lymph nodes that last for a longer period of time is medical treatments and your doctor will only prescribe you after a complete medical examination. So, we recommend that you do not use any medicine on your own. However, the following are some home remedies that you can use in case of swollen occipital lymph nodes. They will relieve you of pain and swelling. These remedies are carefully selected and added to our list after a lot of research.

Increase Intake of Vitamin C – Problems in the lymph system is a result of the weakness of your immune system. A diet rich in vitamin C is the best way to strengthen your immune system. The best sources of vitamin C are citrus fruits like oranges and lemons.

Eat Garlic – Garlic has been used to treat the fungal, bacterial and viral infections in Chinese and Indian traditions. You can add some extra garlic in your daily diet.

Cold Compress – Applying a cold compress is the best way to get rid of the inflammation and the pain caused by it. A hot compress will relax your pain and swelled occipital lymph nodes temporarily and will help you work and sleep. You can use an ice pack or ice cubes wrapped up in a towel. You can do this a few times a day to get rid of the pain.

Oil Massage – An oil massage of essential oils can help you relax. These oils have amazing anti-inflammatory properties and can help you relax. One such oil is oregano oil. A few drops of it and a smooth massage will go a long way in easing you out. You can also use a mixture of coconut oil and tea tree oil. Make sure that you do not use a strong hand while massaging the areas. Massage should be gentle. You can massage your swollen occipital lymph nodes twice a day to get good results.

Supplements – You can also use some supplements to boost up your immune system. There are different supplements available in the market. We recommend that you only use these supplements if you are unable to take a balanced diet and after a recommendation of your doctor.

Apple Cider Vinegar – Apple cider vinegar is an amazing remedy to a lot of health problems. In the case of swollen occipital lymph nodes, it can be used externally and internally. In order to use them in the surface of swollen, lymph nodes, you can soak a clean cotton cloth in the vinegar and apply on the area, it brings quick relief from the pain and stress. For dietary purposes, mix two spoons of vinegar in water and drink it twice a day. It will strengthen your immune system.

Medical Treatment

All of the above-listed methods will either give you temporary relief from the pain or strengthen your immune system so that you can avoid infections in the future. If your swollen occipital lymph nodes do not get normal after the infection goes away and appear without any infection, you need to see a doctor on an urgent basis.

Conclusion

Swollen occipital lymph nodes usually go away once the underlying cause of their swelling vanishes from your body. We are sure that you will be able to deal with the temporary issues with the help of the remedies we have listed above. If however, you do not get better and the lymph nodes do not get normal in a couple of weeks’ time, you must consult your doctor immediately.

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