“Sometimes, I can’t sleep and wake up hollering,” shared one MyEczemaTeam member. “Also, my lymph nodes have swollen up behind my ear. I’m starting to think it’s more than just eczema.”
Eczema can appear differently based on your skin tone. On darker skin tones, eczema might show up as patches that are darker in color, often brown, purple, or gray. In people with lighter skin tones, eczema tends to look like red or pink patches. Regardless of your skin tone, eczema shares common features such as dryness, itching, inflammation, and the possibility of forming blisters or oozing.
Various factors can cause swollen lymph nodes in the body. In general, lymph nodes work together with the immune and lymphatic systems to fight off infections. Swollen lymph nodes, especially if you have an ongoing condition like eczema, may cause you some concern.
Keep reading to find out what research says about the association between swollen lymph nodes and eczema.
Lymph nodes are small, rounded organs that resemble the shape of a sprouted kidney bean. In the body, there are numerous lymph nodes. In fact, adults can have up to 600 lymph nodes. Common areas where people can feel their lymph nodes are behind the ears and in the neck, armpits, and groin. Lymph nodes are responsible for:
The medical term for swollen lymph nodes is lymphadenopathy. Lymph nodes can feel soft, rubbery, tender, and sometimes painful if swollen. Some known causes of swollen lymph nodes include:
In addition, there are two types of lymphadenopathy — local and generalized. Upper respiratory infections may cause local lymphadenopathy, or swelling of nearby lymph nodes because they are near to the infection. Examples of infections that cause local lymph nodes to swell are colds, sinus infections, and strep throat. Autoimmune diseases and cancers are considered generalized lymphadenopathies and may cause swelling of lymph nodes throughout the body due to their widespread effects, which means they have an impact on many different areas and systems in the body.
During an infection or illness, the lymph nodes release white blood cells called lymphocytes. If there are too many lymphocytes, it can cause the lymph nodes to swell. Although swollen lymph nodes are common during infections, there are other causes to consider that relate to eczema.
“My surgeon removed my lymph nodes to check for cancer,” one MyEczemaTeam member wrote. “Turned out, it was just from my eczema causing my lymph nodes to swell for years.”
Lymph nodes may swell due to secondary infections from skin conditions. People with eczema typically have a weak skin barrier and a higher potential for open areas of skin, like cuts, scrapes, and sores. Open skin areas increase the likelihood of germs entering the body and causing infection. People with eczema can be affected by the following infections:
For example, the National Eczema Association reported, “Approximately 10 percent of the general population is colonized on the skin with staph [Staphylococcus aureus] bacteria. Among people with eczema, that number jumps to nearly 80 percent.” This finding means that people with eczema may be at an increased risk of Staphylococcus aureus infections.
Weeping eczema is a severe case of eczema. Per Cleveland Clinic, “Weeping eczema can appear anywhere on the body and, depending on your skin tone, causes red or purple blisters that ooze a clear to straw-colored liquid.” Open skin is more prone to infections, and Staphylococcus infections are the most common infection in people with weeping eczema. Symptoms can include tiredness, chills, fever, and swollen lymph nodes.
Impetigo is a type of skin condition caused by a bacterial infection. People with eczema can experience impetigo from open skin sores due to constant scratching, which allows bacteria to enter. Impetigo creates itchy blisters that can appear around the mouth or nose. Symptoms can include itchiness, sores, blisters, and swollen glands.
Herpes simplex 1 is a virus known to cause cold sores. People with eczema can contract this infection on their skin and develop eczema herpeticum. This condition is often seen in infants and children and can spread by skin-to-skin contact. It causes blisters that are usually around the mouth and the body.
Biologic drugs, also called biologics, are made from living cells or proteins and can cause swollen lymph nodes. Biologics work to tackle the immune system by blocking specific chemical messengers to stop or reduce continuous inflammation.
Dupilumab (Dupixent) and tralokinumab-ldrm (Adbry) are biologics used to treat eczema. Although it’s less common to experience swollen lymph nodes during treatment, this symptom is a possible side effect of both biologics.
An autoimmune disease is when the body’s immune system attacks its own cells, tissues, and organs. Autoimmune diseases that can cause swelling of the lymph nodes include:
Despite the similarities, eczema is an inflammatory skin disease and is not considered an autoimmune disease. In eczema, the immune system does not attack the body’s own cells or tissues.
According to the National Eczema Association, even if the immune system is overactive in eczema, “they aren’t attacking a specific target in the body, the way, for instance, immune cells destroy the insulin-producing cells of the pancreas in the autoimmune condition type 1 diabetes.” A weak skin barrier, exposure to environmental irritants, and skin infections can make eczema symptoms worse, leading to a continuous cycle of long-term inflammation.
More research is necessary to understand how the immune system works in people with eczema. However, one research study argues that individuals with atopic dermatitis, the most common form of eczema, may be at a higher risk of developing autoimmune diseases, including rheumatoid arthritis and lupus.
Treatment will vary depending on what’s causing your lymph nodes to swell. Therapies may include bed rest, applying warm compresses on the affected area, and taking over-the-counter pain relievers to manage common cold symptoms. In moderate to severe cases of eczema, your doctor may prescribe medications to take by mouth or creams to put on your skin.
“Since I have been on Dupixent, my lymph nodes have returned to normal. I never thought I could say that,” shared one MyEczemaTeam member. “I thought I would be in a constant state of agony.”
Autoimmune conditions like rheumatoid arthritis or lupus may require treating the main disease to reduce or control the lymph node swelling.
Note any additional symptoms you experience if your lymph nodes are swollen, such as:
Although eczema is not yet known to cause swollen lymph nodes directly, the two may be related. Swollen lymph nodes may occur due to secondary infections or other complications from severe eczema. However, it’s essential to consult with a health care professional to figure out why your swollen lymph nodes are swollen and receive appropriate treatment.
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