Lymph glands, or, as doctors call them “lymph nodes” are bean-sized structures that are present in various places in our bodies. Although these nodes are present in lots of places, they can be felt most easily in the neck, under the arms, and in the groin where the main part of the body joins the thighs.
Lymph glands are connected to lymph channels, which are tiny hollow tubes through which the whitish fluid called lymph flows. Lymph travels through the lymph channels in much the same way as blood flows through the arteries and veins of the body. When an infection takes place and is strong enough to spread from the site where it first started, the germs or their poisons travel through the lymph channels until they reach the lymph glands. Each lymph gland is composed of millions of white blood cells that fight off the germs or the poisons the germs manufacture. In most cases, the lymph glands are successful in controlling the germs and their poisons, and are able to prevent them from reaching the bloodstream. In this way, they prevent the infection from traveling to other parts of the body.
Lymph glands do not have an easy job in fighting and winning over germs or poisons. And during the fight to control the infection, a lymph gland may become very swollen and painful to the touch. For example, when we have a severe sore throat or inflammation of the tonsils, the lymph glands in the neck become painful and swollen. If there is a severe infection of a toe, the lymph glands in the groin may get large and tender. Or, if there is an infected finger, the lymph glands in the armpit may swell and become painful.
Lymph, a whitish fluid, flows through the lymph channels to the lymph glands, carrying germs from the site of an infection. In the lymph glands, millions of white blood cells fight and destroy the germs and the poisons they manufacture.
One of the first things a doctor does when examining someone with an infection is to feel the lymph glands. If they are swollen and tender, the doctor knows that a pretty severe infection is present. Usually, the patient will be told to take antibiotic medicines to help the lymph glands stop the infection from traveling farther to other parts of the body. The patient will also have to rest in bed and drink large amounts of water and other liquids. Doing these things also helps to overcome an infection.
Fortunately, rest in bed, warm moist soaks to the infected area, drinking lots of fluids, and taking the wonderful antibiotic medicines is enough to knock out most infections, and within a few days, or at most a couple of weeks, the lymph glands return to their normal size and lose their pain and tenderness. Once in a great while, however, the infection is so powerful that it causes an abscess to form in a lymph gland. When this happens, the doctor will have to cut into the gland in order to let the pus drain out.
When the lymph glands are exceptionally painful, warm, wet soaks often relieve the discomfort. Such soaks can be applied by wetting a washcloth or towel. And if the pain is very strong, the doctor may recommend that the patient take a pain-relieving medicine, such as aspirin.
Everyone should be thankful that the body has plenty of lymph glands spread throughout it. Without them, germs and their poisons would have a much easier time going from place to place in our bodies.
The superficial lymph channels and lymph glands (nodes) lie beneath the skin and subcutaneous tissues. The white blood cells in the lymph glands combat infections and prevent their spread to other parts of the body.