Paratracheal Lymph Nodes Overview

The location and purpose of these important structures

Paratracheal lymph nodes run along the sides of your trachea (windpipe) in the neck. These are the lymph nodes that often become swollen when you're sick with a sore throat or cold. Lymph nodes are an important part of your body's immune system, and when they're sore or swollen, this may signal a serious condition, including cancer.

Illustration showing lymph nodes in the neck / Getty Images

The Role of the Lymph System

The human body has an elaborate system of vessels and nodes that move a fluid called lymph to the tissues in the body. The lymph system is a major contributor to the body's immune system, acting as a filter of sorts for foreign particles.

Lymph fluid is made of water, salts, plasma proteins, and white blood cells. The lymph fluid from the intestine and liver is called chyle and contains more proteins and fats. Lymph fluid brings various nutrients to tissue cells. As it passes through lymph nodes, it filters out waste products like carbon dioxide and foreign materials like bacteria, viruses, and even cancer cells.

There are hundreds of lymph nodes in clusters around the body, but under normal circumstances, they are not palpable. This means they cannot be easily felt. However, when an infection or a disease like cancer is present, the lymph nodes produce additional white blood cells, causing them to swell. Swollen lymph nodes are often the first detectable sign of an illness.

Lymph Nodes vs. Glands

Although they're sometimes referred to as glands, lymph nodes have a slightly different function. Glands usually secrete a fluid; for instance, the lacrimal glands above the eyeballs secrete tears and the pituitary gland secretes hormones throughout the body.

But lymph nodes do release substances that help the body fight infections. When the paratracheal lymph nodes change size and become larger, it typically indicates that your body is fighting a minor infection, such as an ear infection or strep throat.

Smoking and Cancer of the Head and Neck

Smoking is one of the leading causes of cancer in the neck and head, and if you both smoke and drink alcohol, this type of cancer is even more prevalent. The most common type of tumor in the trachea is called squamous cell carcinoma. It's usually the result of smoking. This type of cancer is most often found in men between the ages of 50 and 70 who smoke.

Get Help to Quit Smoking

If you're a smoker, remember that your body starts to heal and repair itself very soon after your last cigarette. You can decrease your risk of cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), heart attack, stroke, heart disease, and many other health issues by quitting. In fact, after one year of quitting, your risk for a heart attack decreases dramatically. After two to five years, your risk of stroke is similar to the risk for a non-smoker. Five years after quitting, your risk for esophageal, mouth, throat, and bladder cancer decrease by half and ten years after quitting, your risk for lung cancer decreases 50 percent. Talk to your healthcare provider about your options for quitting.

6 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Terry Martin
Terry Martin quit smoking after 26 years and is now an advocate for those seeking freedom from nicotine addiction.