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Cervical lymphadenitis in children: Etiology and clinical manifestations

C Mary Healy, MD
Section Editors
Morven S Edwards, MD
Jan E Drutz, MD
Glenn C Isaacson, MD, FAAP
Deputy Editor
Mary M Torchia, MD


Cervical lymphadenitis is common in childhood. The incidence is difficult to ascertain because it is usually caused by a viral upper respiratory infection (URI) and is self-limited.

The etiology, pathophysiology, and clinical manifestations of cervical lymphadenitis in children will be reviewed here. The evaluation and treatment of cervical lymphadenitis in children is discussed separately, as is peripheral lymphadenopathy. (See "Cervical lymphadenitis in children: Diagnostic approach and initial management" and "Peripheral lymphadenopathy in children: Etiology" and "Peripheral lymphadenopathy in children: Evaluation and diagnostic approach".)


Cervical lymphadenopathy – Enlarged lymph node(s) of the neck, including preauricular, parotid, jugulodigastric, submental, submandibular, posterior cervical, superficial cervical, deep cervical, occipital, and posterior auricular (mastoid) (figure 1); lymphadenopathy encompasses both inflamed and noninflamed lymph nodes

Cervical lymphadenitis – Enlarged, inflamed, and tender lymph node(s) of the neck; although strictly speaking, "lymphadenitis" refers to inflamed lymph nodes, the terms "lymphadenitis" and "lymphadenopathy" often are used interchangeably

Acute lymphadenitis – Develops over a few days (but may persist for weeks to months)


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Literature review current through: Sep 2016. | This topic last updated: Jan 13, 2016.
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