Swollen lymph nodes can be a sign of inflammation due to an infection. Medications can often provide relief, but natural remedies, such as basil, apple cider vinegar, and chamomile tea, may help treat swollen lymph nodes.

Lymph nodes are small, bean-shaped organs within the body. They are responsible for fighting infections and removing toxins.

While swollen lymph nodes usually resolve on their own, if they are causing discomfort, people can try natural and home remedies. However, while these may help, there is limited research supporting their efficacy.

Read more to learn about natural remedies for swollen lymph nodes, how to prevent them, and when to contact a doctor.

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Swollen lymph nodes generally resolve on their own. They can be a response to an infection, so once it passes, they should shrink back to their expected size.

However, this may take 2 weeks or more. To relieve symptoms in the meantime, an individual can:

  • apply warm, moist compresses
  • drink plenty of fluids
  • take over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen
  • give the body time to rest and recover

Studies suggest various natural remedies may help reduce swelling in the lymph nodes.

Chili pepper

Spicy chili peppers can dilate blood vessels, improving circulation. The increased circulation makes it easier for the body to move fluid, which can reduce swelling.

People can consume cayenne pepper by adding it to their daily meals. If they do not enjoy spicy foods, they may find the ingredient easier to consume as a beverage. They can try combining cayenne pepper, honey, and warm water and drinking it one or more times per day.

Basil and cinnamon

Basil and cinnamon are two common household ingredients that have antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory effects.

Some people enjoy combining them in a warm beverage. To make the remedy:

  1. Bring 3 cups of water to a boil, then add 2 teaspoons each of basil and cinnamon.
  2. Simmer and let it stand for 15 minutes.
  3. Filter the mixture through a strainer to remove the solid particles.

Apple cider vinegar

Apple cider vinegar (ACV) is a popular natural remedy. It has antimicrobial properties, and according to a 2021 study, it is effective against methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus and Escherichia coli. However, many believe it may help fight infections that cause lymph node swelling, clinical studies do not support this finding.

There are two methods of using ACV. One is to mix 1 tablespoon of ACV with honey and warm water. The other involves combining 1 cup of warm water with 1 tablespoon of ACV. A person can soak a washcloth with either mixture and hold it on the affected lymph nodes.

Learn more about ACV.

Castor oil

Castor oil has some anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving properties. It contains a fatty acid called ricinoleic acid that some research suggests may be behind these effects.

Some people state that applying castor oil packs — a piece of material soaked in the oil — can help improve circulation and relieve swelling. Currently, there is no scientific evidence supporting their use, but people may wish to try using one to see if their symptoms improve.

To try using castor oil, people can take the following steps:

  1. Apply a thin layer of the oil to the affected lymph nodes and massage gently.
  2. Soak a washcloth in hot water and wring it out.
  3. Hold the cloth over the swollen lymph nodes for 5–10 minutes.
  4. Rinse the oil off the skin.

Chamomile tea

People can drink various hot teas to soothe a sore throat, and specific tea blends may provide additional health benefits.

For example, chamomile tea may help relieve swelling.

Chamomile has anti-inflammatory properties and can ease pain. People can use either fresh chamomile flowers or tea bags to prepare their tea, and they can drink it one or more times per day.

The natural remedies above are safe for most individuals, but people should be aware that natural does not mean healthy. Some natural and herbal remedies can be dangerous, cause allergic reactions, or interact with a person’s medications.

The caregivers of children should check with a doctor before using any natural remedies, as complementary approaches have not undergone safety testing in children. Additionally, individuals who are pregnant, lactating, or have chronic health conditions should contact a healthcare professional before trying natural remedies.

If a person experiences any symptoms of an allergic reaction, such as difficulty breathing and swelling of the mouth, lips, or tongue, they should stop using the remedy immediately and seek medical attention.

Anaphylaxis: Symptoms and what to do

Anaphylaxis is a severe allergic reaction that can be life threatening. The symptoms develop suddenly and include:

  • hives
  • swelling of the face or mouth
  • wheezing
  • fast, shallow breathing
  • a fast heart rate
  • clammy skin
  • anxiety or confusion
  • dizziness
  • vomiting
  • blue or white lips
  • fainting or loss of consciousness

If someone has these symptoms:

  1. Check whether they are carrying an epinephrine pen. If they are, follow the instructions on the side of the pen to use it.
  2. Dial 911 or the number of the nearest emergency department.
  3. Lay the person down from a standing position. If they have vomited, turn them onto their side.
  4. Stay with them until the emergency services arrive.

Some people may need more than one epinephrine injection. If the symptoms do not improve in 5–15 minutes, or they come back, use a second pen if the person has one.

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Because swollen lymph nodes often occur due to infections, preventing them involves good hygiene practices and other steps to avoid contagious illnesses.

These practices include:

  • washing hands frequently
  • avoiding touching the nose, mouth, or eyes
  • staying away from sick people

Some infections that can cause swollen lymph nodes include:

  • flu
  • common colds
  • tonsillitis
  • sinus infections
  • mononucleosis, or mono
  • staph infections
  • tooth or gum infections
  • fungal infections
  • skin infections

Generally, swollen lymph nodes should reduce and resolve in 1–2 weeks. If an individual experiences swollen lymph nodes for longer than this time, they may want to contact a doctor.

They may also want to consult a healthcare professional if:

  • the swollen glands are getting bigger
  • the swelling becomes hard or does not move after pressing them
  • they experience night sweats or a very high temperature for more than 3 or 4 days
  • there are no other signs of illness or infection
  • the swollen lymph glands are above or below the collar bone

Should you massage a swollen lymph node?

Do not massage swollen lymph nodes as this may encourage the spread of infection. Signs of infection include swelling and redness of the skin, pain or tenderness, fever, chills, and feeling unwell.

Does drinking a lot of water help swollen lymph nodes?

Drinking plenty of water can help avoid dehydration and promote good lymphatic system function. However, no direct evidence shows that drinking water reduces lymph node swelling.

What foods help swollen lymph nodes in neck?

As the lymphatic system is part of the immune system, eating a nutritious diet that helps immune function may help with swollen lymph nodes. This means including 4–7 servings of fruits and vegetables daily to ensure adequate antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals. Examples include green, leafy vegetables, citrus fruits, and sweet potatoes.

Probiotics and foods containing zinc and protein are also important for a healthy immune system.

Learn about foods for boosting the immune system.

Does pregnancy affect the lymphatic system?

During pregnancy, the body carries 50% more fluid and blood than usual. This can put the lymphatic system under stress. A common consequence of this is swelling, particularly in the lower limbs. The medical term for this is edema.

Swollen lymph nodes are a sign of a well-functioning immune system fighting an infection, but they can cause pain and discomfort.

Various home remedies may help ease swelling in the lymph nodes and speed up the healing process. However, it is worth noting that scientific evidence supporting their use is limited.

If the symptoms persist for longer than a couple of weeks, an individual can consult a doctor.