If diagnostic tests confirm that a neck mass is caused by a viral or bacterial infection, specialists at Hassenfeld Children’s Hospital at NYU Langone may recommend observation while your child recovers from a viral infection or antibiotics to fight a bacterial infection.
A viral infection is a common cause of swollen lymph nodes, which may lead to a neck mass. Most of the time, an infection goes away on its own in days or weeks. Our doctors recommend closely monitoring the neck mass and your child’s symptoms.
If symptoms persist and the neck mass does not shrink after one month, or if it grows larger or causes increased discomfort, our specialists recommend that you take your child to a doctor immediately.
If test results indicate that a neck mass is caused by a bacterial infection, our ear, nose, and throat specialists (ENTs) work with infectious disease specialists to prescribe antibiotics. These medications destroy bacteria and prevent them from spreading throughout the body.
Antibiotics are taken by mouth or given through a vein with intravenous (IV) infusion. Your child’s doctor usually prescribes liquid antibiotics, which are taken by mouth, to treat an infected neck mass. This medication is taken twice a day for 10 days.
A child may need an immediate infusion of antibiotics if a neck mass appears to be severely infected. Signs include tight and shiny skin, redness, inflammation, and pain. The neck mass may also feel warm to the touch. In rare instances, an infected neck mass may have an abscess, an area beneath the skin where pus—a thick fluid that contains dead white blood cells—collects. An abscess may resemble a very large pimple.
IV infusion takes place in a hospital. A doctor performs this procedure by inserting a slim flexible tube, called a catheter, into a vein. The doctor injects medication into the catheter, which delivers it into the body. Usually, a child remains in the hospital for 48 hours while receiving antibiotic therapy, though the specific timeline depends on the type and severity of the infection. Often, doctors provide additional antibiotics to be taken by mouth for several days after a child is discharged.
Most of the time, antibiotics relieve the symptoms of an infection, including an abscess. If symptoms are still present after a month, however, a physician may perform a biopsy to obtain more information about a neck mass. Depending on the results of the biopsy, the doctor may recommend surgery to remove the mass.
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