An organ or a group of cells or tissues that release a substance for use in the body is called a gland. The throat or the neck region of the human body consists of many glands. Most of these glands produce useful hormones, while some produce substance like saliva, mucous, sweat and tears. The most prominent throat glands are, thyroid and parathyroid glands, salivary glands and tonsils. Swollen glands in throat indicates several problems and diseases of the throat.
Lymph glands or lymph nodes are small cell clusters present in the lymphatic system and are important throat glands. They are between 500 and 600 in number and are present throughout the human body but mostly concentrated in neck, groin and underarms. Lymph is the fluid present between the cells which travels through the lymph channels formed by adjoining lymph nodes. Lymph and lymph glands is an essential part of the immune system as they defend the body against infection. It consists of white blood cells and antibodies which protects the body against foreign particles. The enlarged size of these lymph glands, which we term as swollen throat glands, are extremely important to determine other medical conditions and their causes. So these enlarged throat glands signal an infection.
Thyroid and Parathyroid Glands
The second type of throat glands are the thyroid glands and parathyroid glands. Thyroid glands are two lateral lobes in the shape of a butterfly and are brownish-red in color. Four small bodies protruding from the thyroid glands are called the parathyroid glands. The function of thyroid glands is to regulate body functions like metabolism, appetite, temperature. It also controls lipolysis, protein synthesis and cholesterol levels and helps in the conversion of nutrients to energy. Parathyroid glands regulates the calcium level in the blood and helps in the food absorption by the intestines.
Salivary glands secretes saliva that contains water along with mucus, electrolytes and enzymes. There are three types of salivary glands namely parotid glands, submaxillary (mandibular) glands, sublingual glands, depending on the type of secretion. It forms an important part of throat glands due to its various functions. Saliva lubricates the oral cavity and esophagus, helping the food to slide down. It also dissolves dry food and helps maintain oral hygiene by flushing away the food debris that remains in the mouth.
Tonsils are lymphatic tissue shaped like an almond located on both sides of the throat. Usually active in children, they are an important part of the immune system, as they protect the body against bacteria, virus and antibodies.
Symptoms of Swollen Throat Glands
Swollen throat has several symptoms that indicate an infection and malfunctioning of the throat glands:
- Dry throat
- Sore throat
- Severe fatigue
- Scratchy throat
- Headache and fever
- Enlarged throat glands
- Throat pain when swallowing
- Redness and infection of the skin
- Runny nose and nasal congestion
Causes of Swollen Throat Glands
The causes of swelling and pain in throat glands depends on the gland that is affected. So the causes of the swelling in lymph nodes, thyroid glands and salivary glands are as follows.
Causes of Swollen Lymph Glands
Causes of Swollen Lymph Glands
- Upper respiratory infection
- Inflammation of the lymph nodes.
- Infection that leads to multiplication on WBC.
- Viral infection
- Bacterial infection like strep throat
- Fungal and parasitic infection
- Exposure to cigarette smoke in children
- Pituitary gland malfunction
- Excessive exposure to iodine
- Inflammation of thyroid glands
- Cancerous growth in the thyroid glands
- Sjogren's syndrome
- Salivary gland infection
Diseases of the Throat Glands
Depending on the glands affected, there are many diseases affecting the throat glands. Mostly the term 'swollen throat glands' indicate swollen lymph glands, but these tender throat glands might also indicate conditions and problems of other throat glands. Some common throat glands diseases and conditions are:
- Warthin's tumor
- Hodgkin's lymphoma
- Hashimoto's thyroiditis
- Pleomorphic adenomas
Treatment of Swollen Throat Glands
Remedies for swollen throat depend on its cause and severity. For a mild swelling of throat glands, without an indication of other underlying serious conditions, aspirin and ibuprofen reduces the inflammation. But aspirin should not be given to small children without consulting a physician. Even antibiotics are helpful for reducing symptoms of viral infection. But serious conditions like immune disorders and cancer needs specific treatments, while some of the above conditions might also require a surgery.
Apart from the treatments related to throat glands conditions, taking adequate rest is mandatory. Rest not only strengthens the immune system, but also aids the medicines in treatment of underlying conditions. Gargling with warm saline water helps relieve sore throat glands, while warm cloth compress relieves the outer swelling. It is always advisable to see a doctor even if mild swelling persists for more than a few days. Physical examination and lab tests are crucial in diagnosing any underlying conditions.