Lymph nodes are an important part of the immune system (your body's natural defense system). They help your body recognize and fight germs, infections, and other foreign substances.
They are found throughout your body, including around the neck, armpit, groin, under the jaw and chin, behind the ears and on the back of the head. There is a chain of lymph nodes on either side of the front of the neck, both sides of the neck, and down each side of the back of the neck.
Some, but not all, people experience swollen and painful lymph nodes in the first few weeks after HIV infection. This may also be referred to as swollen glands or lymphadenopathy. The swelling may be experienced in any of your lymph nodes, and sometimes in more than one area.
In the absence of HIV treatment, a few people may continue to have swollen lymph nodes for years.
Painful lymph nodes may be caused by a wider range of infections, not just HIV. They are generally a sign that your immune system is fighting an infection. The soreness may go away within a couple of days, but the swelling may persist for a little longer.
Other infections that can lead to swollen lymph nodes include colds, influenza, ear infections, mononucleosis, tonsillitis and skin infections. They can also be a response to a malignancy or cancer.
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