If you feel a lump behind your ear, you may be wondering what it is. Lumps behind the ears have various causes, such as lymph node swelling, acne, infections, and in some cases cancer.
This article will cover the possible causes of a lump behind your ear, and direct you to where you can get help.
Lump Behind Ear Causes
An abscess is an infected area of tissue on the skin or inside in the body that can be caused by bacteria or viruses. When an infection begins to develop in the area behind your ear, your immune system responds by sending white blood cells; this can cause pus to develop in the area. An abscess behind the ear can be warm and may also be painful.
Cysts are fluid-filled lumps in the skin. Cysts behind the ear are called sebaceous cysts. This kind of cyst is made up of a collection of dead skin cells and oil in the skin produced by the sebaceous glands. Sebaceous cysts are also commonly found behind the ear, in the ear, and on the scalp.
Lymphadenopathy is a medical term for swelling of the lymph nodes. This type of swelling can result from a variety of causes, such as autoimmune disease or malignancy. It can also be caused by fungal, bacterial, or viral infections (Maini & Nagalli, 2021).
We all have lymph nodes behind our ears, as well as in many other locations in the body. A lymph node is a bean-like structure that is involved in immune function. When you are fighting an infection such as strep throat or mononucleosis, you may develop some swelling in your lymph nodes.
Mastoiditis is a serious infection of the mastoid bone, which lies behind the ear. Mastoiditis is most often caused by otis media, a middle ear infection. Symptoms of mastoiditis include drainage from the ear, headache, swelling behind the ear, ear pain, fever, hearing loss, headache, and redness of the ear or the area behind the ear.
Acne vulgaris is another possible cause of having a lump behind the ear. When hair follicles under the skin become clogged with oil and dead skin cells, acne can develop. Some people have oilier skin, which makes them more prone to acne. Other causes of acne are hormonal issues, and medications such as lithium. In addition, certain triggers can make acne worse, such as stress or wearing tight clothing.
A lipoma is a slow-growing lump of fatty tissue underneath the skin. Lipomas are generally oval or round. Lipomas can move when you touch them, and they tend to feel rubbery. They aren’t typically painful, and most of the time do not require any treatment. Lipomas are thought to be genetic, so you are more likely to develop one if a family member has them.
Can a Lump Behind the Ear be Cancer?
It is possible for a lump behind the ear to be cancerous, but most of the time lumps in that location are benign.
There are some cases in which the lump behind your ear could be cancerous, however, which is why it’s a good idea to get it checked out. Possible symptoms of a cancerous tumor behind the ear include a hard lump, an uneven lump, or one that does not move when you touch it.
Self-Check and Diagnosis
The best way to self-check for a lump behind your ear is to use clean hands to feel. You could also hold a small mirror to check behind your ear. Ask yourself the following questions:
- What other symptoms am I having? If you are currently sick, the lump is most likely from an infection.
- Does the lump feel soft, can I move it? If this is the case, it’s most likely a lipoma.
- Is it tender? Does it hurt when I touch it? If the answer is yes, it could be an abscess, acne, or a cyst.
- Is the lump hard or uneven? If this is the case, it could possibly be a tumor.
You should not always rely on self-diagnosis. The area behind your ear is difficult to examine yourself, and because there is a possibility that a lump may not be benign the best option is to consult a doctor.
When to See a Doctor?
If you feel any type of lump behind your ear that you do not recognize to be acne, it is always worth contacting a doctor. A doctor will be able to differentiate between types of lumps behind the ear and will be able to give you a proper diagnosis. A doctor can also prescribe medication to treat the lump, if necessary.
Most of the time a lump behind the ear is not cancer, but because it is possible, it is worth consulting a doctor to ensure it is not.
Get help from an online doctor
If you are concerned about a lump behind your ear, DrHouse can help. DrHouse is a telemedicine app that allows you to connect with an online doctor in 15 minutes or less, any day of the year.
DrHouse hires board-certified doctors who have graduated from top medical schools around the country. An experienced doctor will be able to address your symptoms, find a proper diagnosis, and prescribe any needed treatments.
If you feel a lump behind your ear, don’t despair, most of the time a lump behind the ear is not a cause for concern.
There are a number of possible causes of lumps behind the ear, such as: infections, cysts, abscesses, acne, lipoma, lymphadenopathy, and in rare cases, cancer.
Possible treatments for a lump behind the ear include antibiotics to cure an infection, or topical treatments for acne, such as clindamycin. Other treatments may involve surgical procedures for cysts, abscesses, or tumors, depending on the cause and whether the lump is creating any problems.
If you are concerned about a lump behind your ear, it’s best to contact a doctor. It’s the quickest way to find peace of mind and ensure you are taking good care of yourself.
- Benign Ear Cyst (Ear and Temporal Bone Tumor). Pennmedicine.org. (n.d.). Retrieved July 14, 2022, from https://www.pennmedicine.org/for-patients-and-visitors
- Laulajainen Hongisto, A., Jero, J., Markkola, A., Saat, R., & Aarnisalo, A. A. (2016). Severe Acute Otitis Media and Acute Mastoiditis in Adults. The journal of international advanced otology, 12(3), 224–230. https://doi.org/10.5152/iao.2016.2620
- Leskinen, K., & Jero, J. (2005). Acute complications of otitis media in adults. Clinical Otolaryngology: Official Journal of ENT-UK ; Official Journal of Netherlands Society for Oto-Rhino-Laryngology & Cervico-Facial Surgery, 30(6), 511–516. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1749-4486.2005.01085.x
- Maini R, Nagalli S. Lymphadenopathy. [Updated 2021 Nov 25]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK558918/
- Mastoiditis. Mount Sinai Health System. (n.d.). Retrieved July 14, 2022, from https://www.mountsinai.org/health-library/diseases-conditions/mastoiditis
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2022, April 1). Acne. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. Retrieved July 14, 2022, from https://www.niams.nih.gov/health-topics/acne
- Nickloes, T. (2022, April 29). Lipomas. Background, Pathophysiology, Etiology. Retrieved July 14, 2022, from https://emedicine.medscape.com/article/191233-overview