Swollen Occipital Lymph Node: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

By Sunny |
|5 min read

Lymph nodes play an active role in your immune system. They act as your watchdog, surveilling your body and alerting you when there is a problem with swelling. These nodes are connected by the lymphatic vessels throughout your body. Occipital lymph nodes are part of your lymphatic system. The occipital lymph node contains white blood cells known as leukocytes that help your body in fighting illness. The node functions as a filter, trapping dead cells, microorganisms, and even cancer cells in circulation and destroys them.

Where Is the Occipital Lymph Nodes Located?

The occipital lymph nodes are located in the occipital region of your head. It is difficult to palpate them unless they are swollen. On palpation, they feel like small beans or kidney-shaped lumps on the back of your ears and neck.

Anatomically, you have three occipital lymph nodes at the back of each ear. Aside from having white blood cells, this node also contains special immune cells called T and B antibodies that make it quite effective in fighting off infection. A swollen occipital lymph node is a telltale sign of an infection in your scalp, neck, ears, nose, or throat as these organs drain to these nodes.

When an infection develops, the lymphocytes aggregate in large numbers in the occipital lymph node, which causes them to swell up and increase in size. At this point, you may feel them, and it indicates the need to book an appointment with your doctor.

Symptoms of Swollen Occipital Lymph Nodes

Depending on the causative agent and the site affected, different symptoms may be exhibited. The classic signs of a swollen lymph node include:

  • Visible swelling
  • the lymph node becomes palpable
  • Redness of the lymph node
  • Tender, warm, and painful to touch

Other symptoms may include:

  • Difficulty in rotating your neck
  • Scalp itchiness
  • Fever that may indicate a bacterial infection
  • A runny nose or a sore throat may indicate a respiratory infection
  • If the node is rapidly swelling to a size of a golf ball or more, it may be indicative of a malignancy
  • The node feels hard and rubbery

Resist the urge to keep on touching and squeezing your swollen occipital lymph node, as can make it swell more or even infect it.

Causes of Swollen Occipital Lymph Nodes

Swollen occipital lymph nodes indicate an illness that can be caused by various factors. The massive infiltration of your lymphocytes shows that your body is ready to curb the infective agent. These causes include:

1. Viral infections

They account for the most cases of swollen occipital lymph nodes. Viruses that cause common colds or upper respiratory infections are influenza and parainfluenza, adenovirus, and rhinovirus. If they keep recurring, they may prompt your lymph nodes to swell. The massive infiltration of lymphocytes assist your body in fighting the virus and may persist after the cold is over.

Additionally, viral infections causing rubella and mumps can cause the nodes in your neck and back of your head to swell. They also present a generalized rash and swelling of the parotid glands in your mouth.

2. Bacterial infections

Bacterial infections may either be acute or chronic. Common infective microorganisms encountered are streptococcus and staphylococcus bacteria. They may cause scalp infections. The debris drain through the occipital lymph nodes making them swell, become tender, and present with rashes that are draining pus.

Bacterial throat infections may lead to painful swallowing and inflamed tonsils alongside swollen occipital lymph nodes. The swelling should subside when the bacterial infection has been treated successfully.

The swollen occipital lymph nodes may indicate a chronic bacterial infection such as gland tuberculosis. Accompanying symptoms may include unexplained weight loss and a persisting low-grade fever.

3. Ear infections

All ear infections will cause the occipital lymph node to swell. Bacterial infections of the ear are the most commonly encountered. They may cause a lot of earache, tender swellings behind your ears, along with purulent drainage. Ear infections and swellings should not be ignored as they may cause permanent hearing loss.

4. Fungal infections

Ringworm infestation on your scalp, also known as Tinea capitis, may lead to the swelling of occipital lymph nodes. You may have an itchy scalp with flaking that resembles dandruff. Intense itching could lead to the formation of yellow crusts on your scalp, too.

5. Sexually transmitted infections (STIs)

Infectious mononucleosis, or the kissing disease, caused by the Epstein-Barr virus affects the glands in your mouth. This virus is transmitted via shared saliva, such as through kissing. It causes your occipital lymph nodes to become inflamed, coupled with a nasty sore throat, fever, and a headache.

Advancing syphilis that has moved beyond a simple chancre (ulcer) may affect other parts of your body, especially your head. This infection spreads via the lymphatic system and swells up the occipital lymph node.

6. Cancer

Cancer may spread to other tissues or metastasis via the lymphatic system and can cause the occipital lymph nodes to swell. The swelling feels like a hard, irregular node. Sometimes, cancers can originate from the lymphatic system, known as lymphoma. There are two types of lymphomas: Hodgkin's and Non- Hodgkin's. They all present painless swelling of lymph nodes including the occipital lymph nodes, which continues to increase in size. Other accompanying symptoms include fever, unexplained weight loss, and night sweats.

When to See a Doctor

The swollen occipital lymph node should be checked out if:

  • The node persists for more than a month after treatment

  • The node becomes red and tender to touch

  • The node becomes hard and irregular

  • The node continues to increase in size day in day out

It is important to consult your doctor and avoid self-diagnosis from the internet. The right treatment of the swollen occipital lymph nodes deters you from serious complication from illnesses.



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