Occipital Node Swelling: What it Means

We all have some idea that we have lymph nodes in the neck area. Not all of us know though that there are different terms for neck lymph node clusters depending on their location. One such set are the occipital lymph nodes. Where exactly are occipital lymph nodes and what does it mean when they swell?

Occipital Lymph Nodes

There are around three or less occipital lymph nodes and they are found at the back of the head. They are specifically located near a muscle and at the point where the head and neck meet. Like other lymph nodes, these occipital nodes take in lymph fluid to purify it of harmful cells or particles. By virtue of their location, the lymph that passes through them is the one that has gone around the scalp.


Lymph nodes usually swell when a part of the body is infected. Occipital lymph nodes that swell may therefore be an indication that you have a certain infection of the scalp or other neighboring regions.

Infections can be bacterial or viral in origin but research evidence also suggests that occipital nodes may swell when the scalp has a fungal infection. Aside from the swollen node, a fungal infection is also accompanied by some itchiness, scaling of the scalp skin and possibly even hair loss.

Some other scalp conditions that may cause the occipital nodes to swell include scalp ringworm infection, lice infestation, dandruff and tiny bug bites. Swelling may also happen due to neighboring area conditions such as infection of the ear, throat infection and rubella.

Some sources say that swelling of the occipital nodes is rarely due to moving cancer cells from neighboring areas. It is possible though for cancer cells to metastasize to the occipital nodes. Metastasis means that cancer cells have moved from their point of origin to a distant location in the body. In this case, cancer in an organ may have traveled to the occipital nodes via the lymphatic system.

What You Should Do

Although, swelling of the occipital lymph nodes often means that you have a curable scalp infection, you should never be too sure. You should consult your doctor to keep you at ease. If your problem is just an infection, treating it would be enough. Your occipital nodes may not immediately return to their original size but they will not grow bigger or cause you any harm.

Be especially concerned if your node is already an inch or more in size and seems to be growing and if it has been around for more than four weeks. Your condition may also be serious if you have recurrent fever that doesn’t seem to go away.

Refrain from prodding or constricting the swollen occipital nodes. You will not be able to get rid of them this way and you may even worsen your condition. Stick strictly to your doctor’s instruction for medicine intake but do not hesitate to ask for a second opinion if you do not get well or if you have serious doubts. 

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