Often glands become swollen in adults’ necks when they are sick.

Dr. Shannon Cohen, a physician at East Tennessee Children’s Hospital, says when children are sick their glands can become swollen as well. She says sometimes a swollen gland can appear larger in a child, sending parents into a panic, but rarely is this a sign of serious illness.

Lymph nodes contain white blood cells and filter germs throughout the body, according to Dr. Cohen. She says swollen glands appear in the neck when fighting off a cold or strep throat, under the arm when an infection is nearby. She said they can also appear in the groin or leg.

While most swollen glands go away on their own in a few weeks, Dr. Cohen says a child should see a doctor if the lymph glands are swollen and tender for more than five days or if the child has trouble breathing, tiredness, lethargy or unexplained weight loss. They should also see a doctor if they have a high fever or a gland enlarges rapidly and appears red or purple or is warm to the touch, because this could be a sign of infection.

“Trust your instincts when it comes to your child’s health,” said Dr. Cohen. “Consult a doctor with any concerns. That’s what we’re there for.”

While a swollen gland can be a sign for cancer, Dr. Cohen says those cases are very rare. She says Hodgkin’s lymphoma is a type of childhood cancer that originates in the lymphatic tissues, which includes the lymph nodes.