Children & Adolescents Clinic

 Home Parent's Guide

Clinical Reference Systems: Pediatric Advisor 10.0

Cervical Adenitis


Cervical adenitis is a bacterial infection of a lymph node in the neck. Lymph nodes are part of our immune system, which helps fight infections. Sometimes nodes in the neck become infected and these infections are called cervical adenitis. Children with the infection have a hard, painful, swollen mass in the neck and may have a fever.

Most lymph node infections heal well with oral antibiotics, but a few need to be opened and drained. Those that need to be drained become soft in the middle.


Bacteria present in the nose, tonsils, or adenoids can spread to the lymph nodes and cause an infection. Also, cavities in the teeth can become infected and the bacteria may then spread to the lymph nodes. The infected lymph node then becomes enlarged, warm, and tender.

Home Care

  1. Oral antibiotics

    Your doctor will prescribe your child an oral antibiotic to treat the bacterial infection.

  2. Fever and pain relief

    Give your child acetaminophen or ibuprofen if he or she develops a fever of 101 degrees F (38.3 degrees C) or higher or has pain from the neck swelling.

  3. Fluids

    Make sure your child is drinking plenty of fluids.

  4. Observation of lymph nodes

    Your child's lymph node may have been outlined with a pen during your visit. If so, watch to see that the node is not enlarging rapidly outside of the markings.

  5. Follow-up visit

    All children with lymph node infections should see their doctor at the end of the antibiotic treatment to make sure the lymph node is getting better.

Call Your Child's Physician IMMEDIATELY If:

  • Your child has a new high fever of 102 degrees F (38.5 degrees C) or higher.
  • Your child has any difficulty swallowing liquids or breathing.
  • The lymph node is rapidly enlarging even though your child is taking oral antibiotics.
  • Your child starts to act very sick.

Call Your Child's Physician Within 24 Hours If:

  • The lymph node is becoming soft in the middle.
  • The swelling is enlarging after 48 hours of antibiotics and your child is not getting better.
  • You have other questions or concerns.

Written by the Section of Pediatric Emergency Medicine, The Children's Hospital, Denver.
Copyright 1999 Clinical Reference Systems