Paratracheal Lymph Nodes

These Nodes Are Part of the Body's Lymph System

Conceptual artwork of lymph nodes in the neck (paratracheal) and down into the chest. SCIEPRO/Science Photo Library/Getty Images

Paratracheal lymph nodes run along the sides of the 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 important parts of the body's immune system, and when they're sore or swollen may signal a serious condition, including cancer. 

What Does the Lymph System Do?

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 up of white blood cells and chyle, a fluid from the intestines that contains 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 cannot be easily felt. However, when infection or a disease like cancer is present, they produce more 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. And when the nodes in the neck become swollen, for example, it typically indicates the body is fighting a minor infection, such as an ear infection or strep throat.