Are Swollen Glands a Symptom of COVID-19? A Doctor Answers Here
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Swollen glands are a common symptom for many conditions, especially when it comes to infections like common colds, the flu or even ear infections in some cases.
Right now, many people are wondering if this symptom can also lay behind a SARS-CoV-2 infection. Of course, if there’s no concern regarding the COVID-19 infection, why would you suffer from swollen glands?
I think it’s very important to understand how and why this sign appears and when you should seek help from a professional.
First things first, though, let me explain what these glands are and why they matter so much.
What are ‘swollen glands?’
The term ‘swollen glands’ is the common equivalent of its medical name, lymph nodes. These bean-shaped structures are located in different areas all over the body and they’re crucial for your immune system. According to the National Cancer Institute, these lymph nodes are found in your neck, chest, armpits, abdomen and groin.
All lymph nodes are connected to one another and they work by filtering out substances using lymphatic fluid. These glands contain plenty of lymphocytes, commonly known as white blood cells; these little cells keep your body safe from infections and diseases.
As your body is trying to fight off an infection, lymph nodes are working at their full capacity. All of this effort can cause swelling, hence the term ‘swollen glands.’
Thomas Russo, MD, professor and chief of infectious disease at the University of Buffalo, says that this symptom is medically called lymphadenopathy and may manifest in one or more areas through the body depending on where the infection is located. For example, if you’re suffering from a respiratory infection, you might suffer from swollen glands in the head and neck.
Could it be COVID-19?
Judging by the official list of COVID-19 symptoms issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), swollen glands are not a symptom. However, the CDC also mentions that their list ‘does not include all possible symptoms.’ This statement alone leaves room for plenty of debate and only increases uncertainty for everyone.
Right now, there is very little research suggesting that the SARS-CoV-2 virus can cause swollen glands.
Two studies (here and here) published in the journal The Lancet: Infectious Diseases found that swollen lymph nodes were more often found in critically ill patients. What’s even more interesting, though, is that the most affected lymph nodes in these patients were those in the mediastinum (mediastinal lymph nodes), located between the lungs (aka the area that includes your esophagus, heart and trachea).
Raymond Casciari, MD, pulmonologist at St. Joseph Hospital in California, explains that unusually large mediastinal lymph nodes can be detected during a CT scan. In other words, you may be having this symptom and never know it because your doctor cannot detect it during a regular physical exam.
To conclude, we can say that COVID-19 might cause swollen glands in the mediastinum for severely ill patients; however, there’s still more research to be done on this subject.
What if you have swollen glands?
So swollen glands aren’t among the main symptoms of COVID-19. However, if you do feel something different, it’s still best to get checked by a specialist.
Dr. Russo advises his patients to seek professional help regardless if they think they’re at risk or not. Even if it isn’t COVID-19, another condition still lies behind swollen glands and you might require medical treatment.
Here is a shortlist of the most common causes for swollen lymph nodes:
- The flu
- Sexually transmitted illnesses (STDs)
- Skin infections
- Rheumatoid arthritis
It’s especially important to discuss this symptom with your doctor if you’ve had it for quite a while, as it may signal a more serious condition.
Looking for more COVID-19 content? Try our posts here:
- COVID During Pregnancy: Does It Harm Your Baby?
Have you ever dealt with swollen glands? If so, what were they caused by? Let us know in the comment section and let’s stay informed to stay healthy!