Preauricular Lymph Nodes: What to Know

The preauricular lymph nodes are felt just in front of the ears. These small nodes play a vital role in the immune system. In this article, we provide information about the preauricular lymph nodes and other parts of the lymphatic system. We also look at what conditions and health problems can cause the preauricular lymph nodes to swell.

What are preauricular lymph nodes?

The preauricular lymph nodes are a group of lymph nodes that are located just in front of the ears. These lymph nodes filter lymph fluid as it comes from the scalp, neck, and various parts of the face. The human body contains around 600 small glands called lymph nodes that play an essential role in the function of the immune system. A network of vessels called the lymphatic system connects the lymph nodes.

Lymphatic vessels take excess fluid from the body’s tissues and direct it to nearby lymph nodes. Lymph nodes contain immune cells that detect and destroy bacteria, viruses, and damaged cells in the fluid. At the end of this filtering process, the lymph nodes release the clean fluid back into the blood. Learn more about the anatomy of the lymphatic system and how it works in the body in this article.

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Causes of swelling

Most healthy lymph nodes are so small that a person cannot feel them. Sometimes a lymph node or multiple lymph nodes can swell as they work hard to remove harmful substances from the lymph fluid. Swelling usually indicates a problem in some part of the body. Doctors use the term localized lymphadenopathy to refer to swelling in a single lymph node or a small group of lymph nodes, such as PLN. Localized lymphadenopathy occurs when there is a problem in nearby tissues. The problem may be:

  • An infection.
  • Wounds.
  • Cancer.

Generalized lymphadenopathy is inflammation in multiple lymph nodes throughout the body. Certain infections, illnesses, and medications can cause this type of swelling. The following are potential causes of swollen preauricular lymph nodes:

Salivary gland infections

The parotid glands are a type of large salivary gland, and they sit on the upper jaw, one in front of each ear. Parotid gland infections can cause swollen preauricular lymph nodes.

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Other possible symptoms of a salivary gland infection include:

  • Dry mouth.
  • An abnormal or unpleasant taste.
  • Swelling in front of the ears, under the jaw, or on the floor of the mouth.
  • A squeezing pain in the mouth or face, especially when eating.
  • Difficulty opening your mouth.
  • Redness on the side of the face or upper neck.
  • Fever.

Salivary gland infections are usually bacterial. Risk factors for these types of infection include:

  • Poor oral hygiene
  • Blockages with calculi of the salivary duct.
  • Dehydration.
  • Chronic illness.
  • Of smoking.

External otitis

Otitis externa, or swimmer’s ear, is a condition that causes inflammation, irritation, or an infection of the ear canal. Sometimes it can cause the lymph nodes around the ear to swell. Other common symptoms include:

  • An inflamed ear canal.
  • Redness of the outer ear.
  • A blockage in the ear.
  • Muffled hearing or hearing loss.
  • Itching inside the ear.
  • Discharge from the ear
  • Pain inside the ear, especially when touching the earlobe.
  • Pain that radiates from the ear to the head, neck, or side of the face.
  • Swelling of the lymph nodes in the neck.
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Otitis externa often occurs when water becomes trapped in the ear, leading to the growth of bacteria and fungi.

Viral conjunctivitis

Conjunctivitis, which people commonly call chicken eye, refers to inflammation or swelling of the conjunctiva within the eye. The conjunctiva is a thin membrane that covers the whites of the eyes. Conjunctivitis is usually the result of a viral or bacterial infection of the eye. Other causes include allergies and irritants. Viral conjunctivitis can cause the preauricular lymph nodes to swell and become tender. Symptoms of viral conjunctivitis usually start in one eye and spread to the other within a few days. These symptoms can include:

  • Redness in the whites of the eyes.
  • Swelling of the conjunctiva or eyelid.
  • Itching, burning, or irritation.
  • Watery discharge from the eye.
  • You want to rub your eye.
  • Scab of the eyelids or eyelashes, especially when waking up.

People with pink eye may also experience symptoms of a cold, flu, or other respiratory infections.

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