What causes neck swelling?

Neck swelling can arise from infection of the skin or other structures, which can lead to fluid accumulation, inflammation, swelling, or swollen lymph nodes of the neck. Swelling may also occur as a result of a recent neck injury or surgery.

In serious cases, neck swelling may be due to mumps (a viral infection of the salivary glands in the neck), or a serious allergic reaction. In these cases, prompt medical attention may be necessary.

Skin causes of neck swelling

Neck swelling may be caused by a variety of skin conditions including:

  • Acne
  • Benign growths
  • Boils
  • Cyst (a benign sac that contains fluid, air, or other materials)
  • Lipoma (benign fatty growth)
  • Skin infection

Other causes of neck swelling

Neck swelling can also be caused by a variety of other conditions including:

  • General infection leading to swollen lymph nodes
  • Goiter (an enlarged thyroid gland)
  • Hereditary angioedema (a serious genetic disorder that causes periodic swelling of the throat and other areas)
  • Mononucleosis (a type of viral infection)
  • Mumps (viral infection of the salivary glands in the neck)
  • Recent neck injury or trauma
  • Recent neck surgery
  • Side effects to medication such as antibiotics or angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors
  • Thyroid gland enlargement (goiter)

Serious or life-threatening causes of neck swelling

In some cases, neck swelling may be a symptom of a serious or life-threatening condition that should be immediately evaluated in an emergency setting. These include:

  • Anaphylaxis (severe allergic reaction)
  • Angioedema (a severe swelling beneath the skin that can cause breathing difficulty)
  • Cancer of the throat, soft tissues, thyroid gland, or other structures

Questions for diagnosing the cause of neck swelling

To diagnose your condition, your doctor or licensed health care practitioner will ask you several questions related to your neck swelling including:

  • How long has your neck been swollen?
  • Do you have any allergies?
  • Do you have any other symptoms of infection?
  • Do you have any other symptoms?
  • Have you had a recent surgery or injury?
  • Is the swelling painful?
  • Is your neck stiff?
  • What medications are you taking?

What are the potential complications of neck swelling?

Generally, neck swelling is not serious and can be treated with over-the-counter medications and home remedies. In serious cases, neck swelling may be related to an underlying infection or to an injury that requires medical care. Because neck swelling can be due to serious diseases, failure to seek treatment can result in serious complications and permanent damage. Once the underlying cause is diagnosed, it is important for you to follow the treatment plan that you and your health care professional design specifically for you to reduce the risk of potential complications including:

  • Pain that does not respond to treatment (intractable pain)
  • Severe breathing problems
  • Spread of cancer
  • Spread of infection
  • Thyroid dysfunction


  1. Facial swelling. MedlinePlus, a service of the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003105.htm.
  2. Facial swelling. FamilyDoctor.org. http://familydoctor.org/familydoctor/en/health-tools/search-by-symptom/facial-swelling.html.
  3. Domino FJ (Ed.) Five Minute Clinical Consult. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2013.

What is neck swelling?

Neck swelling is an accumulation of fluid in the neck tissues or inflammation in the neck. Neck inflammation can arise from an infection, injury, or a recent medical procedure. Benign skin conditions can cause small areas of the neck to appear swollen. Swelling of the lymph nodes in the neck is a common symptom of many different types of viral and bacterial infections. Thyroid gland enlarg... Read more about neck swellingintroduction


What other symptoms might occur with neck swelling?

Neck swelling may accompany other symptoms that vary depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition.

Skin symptoms that may occur along with neck swelling

Neck swelling may accompany other symptoms affecting the skin including:

Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Annual Review Date: Sep 6, 2013 Copyright: © Copyright 2014 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

This Article is Filed Under: Ear, Nose and Throat

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