COVID-19 is a respiratory disease caused by the virus SARS-CoV-2. It commonly causes coughing, fever, and difficulty breathing, but the symptoms can vary widely. Sometimes, COVID-19 may also cause swollen lymph nodes.

Lymph nodes, also known as glands, are part of the immune system. They’re small bean-shaped structures that filter foreign substances, including viruses and bacteria. There are lymph nodes throughout your entire body.

Normally, lymph nodes feel like hard peas. But when you have an infection, your lymph nodes produce more white blood cells to fight the germs. This can make them swollen, large, and soft to the touch.

Though uncommon, it’s possible for COVID-19 to cause swollen lymph nodes in the neck or under the jaw.

Read on to learn about this symptom. We’ll discuss why this happens, other potential causes, and when you should see a doctor.

A swollen lymph node will look like a large round or oval bump underneath the skin.

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Swollen lymph nodes in the neck, or cervical lymphadenopathy, can occur in the front or back areas of the neck. James Heilman, MD, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

According to a 2020 article, swollen lymph nodes aren’t a usual symptom of COVID-19.

However, there have been reports of people with COVID-19 experiencing this symptom.

For example, in a 2020 case report, a young man with COVID-19 had swollen lymph nodes in the neck and under the jaw. In another 2020 case report, a young woman with mild COVID-19 symptoms had a swollen gland in the neck.

A third 2020 article also reports swollen lymph nodes in three people who tested positive for COVID-19. According to the researchers, SARS-CoV-2 may cause throat inflammation. This inflammation could cause an immune reaction in nearby lymph nodes, including those in the neck.

These reports suggest that it’s possible, but uncommon, for COVID-19 to cause swollen glands. It’s also worth noting that symptoms can vary widely from person to person. Researchers are still learning about how COVID-19 affects different people.

More common symptoms involving the neck and throat include:

The most common symptoms of COVID-19 include:

If you have COVID-19, it’s more likely that you’ll develop these symptoms instead of swollen glands in the neck.

There’s minimal research on the prevalence of swollen lymph nodes in people post-COVID-19.

According to a 2021 case report, swollen lymph nodes can persist after a person has recovered from COVID-19. It’s also possible for them to appear after recovery.

In the report, a young woman had swollen glands after recovering from COVID-19. However, the swollen lymph nodes were in the hilum and mediastinum. The hilum is the part that attaches your lungs to supporting structures. The mediastinum is the area between the lungs.

More research is needed to understand the link between long COVID-19 and swollen lymph nodes.

It’s possible to develop swollen lymph nodes after getting a COVID-19 vaccine. Typically, it occurs in the neck or armpit region. It also develops near the arm that you received the vaccine.

In a 2021 article, 4 out of 80 people developed a swollen lymph node in the neck after receiving the first dose of the vaccine. A 2021 case report describes 20 people who developed swollen glands on their collarbone after the first or second dose.

Also, according to a Food and Drug Administration (FDA) document, lymph node swelling in the armpit was the second most common local reaction. Local reactions are limited to a specific body part.

The swollen lymph nodes typically appear 2 to 4 days after getting the vaccine. The reaction is also commonly associated with Moderna vaccine, though it can happen with the Pfizer vaccine, too.

This side effect is a natural response to the vaccine. The vaccine contains pieces of mRNA, which make the body produce spike protein, a molecule that’s specific to SARS-CoV-2.

The body recognizes the protein as a foreign substance. This triggers an immune response, which increases the production of white blood cells to fight the protein. In turn, your lymph nodes may swell.

If you think you have COVID-19, speak with a nurse or doctor. They can suggest the next steps based on your symptoms.

If you develop a swollen lymph node after getting the COVID-19 vaccine, remember that this is a normal reaction. Speak with a doctor if you’re concerned.

You should also see a doctor if you have:

Medical emergency

The following symptoms require immediate medical help:

  • persistent fever
  • chills
  • difficulty swallowing or breathing

It’s possible to develop a swollen lymph node in the neck or under the jaw due to COVID-19. However, it’s an uncommon side effect of the disease.

There are more reports of the COVID-19 vaccine causing swollen lymph nodes in the neck and armpit. This is linked to the immune response triggered by the vaccine.

If you’re concerned about a swollen lymph node in any part of the body, visit your doctor. They can determine what’s causing the swelling based on your medical history and symptoms.