The glands, or lymph nodes, in the neck swell when the body is fighting off an illness or an infection, such as cold or sore throat, according to WebMD. Lymph nodes can also swell in response to an injury or a bug bite, or when there is a nearby tumor. The lymph nodes are an important part of the immune system and are responsible for filtering lymph fluid and trapping bacteria, viruses or other foreign substances in the body.
Other conditions that can cause the lymph nodes in the neck to swell include ear infections, tooth infections, sexually transmitted diseases and mononucleosis, notes WebMD. Lymph nodes typically return to their normal size once the initial cause of the lymphatic reaction has been treated. Discomfort caused by swollen glands can be alleviated by taking over-the-counter pain medications, resting or soaking with a warm, wet washcloth.
If lymph node swelling is accompanied by a fever of 104 degrees Fahrenheit or greater, difficulty with breathing or swallowing, night sweats, weight loss or skin redness, patients should contact their health care provider, states WebMD. Patients should also contact a health care provider if swollen lymph nodes are larger than 1 inch or become hard and painful to the touch.