Lumps can form anywhere in the body. Most of the time, they are harmless (benign). It may seem odd if you find a lump behind your ear, but most lumps in this area are easy to treat and don’t cause any long-term problems.
Some of the most common causes of lumps behind the ear are infections and skin conditions. Less commonly, tumors can form behind the ear. Here’s how to tell what a lump behind your ear might mean, how to treat the condition, and when you should see your doctor.
What counts as a lump behind the ear?
A lump is a small to medium-sized lump. A lump behind the ear can form anywhere from the top of the ear to the lobe. The lump feels soft or firm.
If you have a lump behind your ear, it may be tender or painful. Some lumps do not cause any discomfort.
What causes a lump behind the ear?
Lumps can form behind the ear for a number of reasons. The most common causes of lumps in this area are infections and skin conditions. Less commonly, tumors can develop here.
When you are sick, you may notice a lump behind your ear. If you have strep throat or an ear infection, the lymph nodes behind your ears may become swollen and inflamed.
Other common infections can also cause swollen lymph nodes, such as:
- abscessed or impacted tooth
- gum disease
- Influenza or other upper respiratory tract infection
- Lyme disease (disease caused by bacteria carried by ticks)
- Mononucleosis (infection caused by the herpes virus)
- Oral herpes (herpes simplex virus infection)
- Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs)
- Tonsillitis (inflammation of the tonsils in the back of the throat)
Skin infections can also cause swollen lymph nodes. In some cases, the infected skin can cause a growth called an abscess that looks like a large pimple.
Mastoiditis, a bacterial infection that affects the mastoid bone behind the ear, can also cause a lump. This condition is usually caused by the spread of an untreated middle ear infection to the mastoid bone.
Other symptoms of mastoiditis include:
- ear drainage
- redness around the ear
- hearing difficulties
If you have certain skin conditions, you may feel some lumps or bumps in the space behind your ears. Papules, cysts, and lipomas may appear in the area.
Acne is a common skin condition that produces pimples. Acne can appear on many parts of the body, but the face is the most common. Pimples can also develop behind the ears.
Over-the-counter (OTC) acne creams and face washes may help treat mild acne. More severe acne may require prescription medication. Pimples can also become infected. Try not to scratch or touch the pimple to reduce the chance of infection.
A lipoma is a skin growth. Cellulite is not hard and can move under the skin. They can form on various parts of the body, including behind the ears.
Lipomas are harmless but can cause discomfort. You don’t usually need treatment for a lipoma unless it bothers you. In this case, you can delete it.
Cysts are made up of dead skin cells and oil. They are soft to the touch and often disappear on their own.
Cysts are usually not painful unless they are infected. If this happens, antibiotics may be needed. If the cyst is causing discomfort or may be causing problems due to its location, it may need to be removed.
benign or malignant tumor
Tumors that form behind the ear can be harmless (benign) or cancerous (malignant). However, cancerous tumors behind the ear are uncommon.
If you have a lump behind your ear and your healthcare provider wants to rule out cancer, they usually need a biopsy, a procedure that involves removing a sample of tissue to examine it more closely.
Cancerous lumps have several characteristics that make them different from harmless, more common lumps. Malignant lumps are more likely to:
- fixed in place
- Uneven or irregular shape
- feel hard
Pain and discomfort are not necessarily indicators of cancerous tumors. Some harmless lumps cause pain, while some malignant ones don’t cause any pain.
when to see a doctor
If you notice a lump behind your ear, you may be wondering if you need medical attention. While most lumps behind your ear aren’t serious, there are some cases where you should see your doctor.
You should see your doctor if you have a lump behind your ear:
- sudden appearance
- with other symptoms
- pain or discomfort
When you go to your doctor for a lump behind your ear, they will do a simple test. They’ll ask you questions about the lump — like when you first noticed it — to determine what’s causing it.
Sometimes the lump behind your ear will be an swollen lymph node. If this is the case, you should see your doctor if:
- It is swollen, red, and painful.
- It feels hard.
- If it gets bigger or doesn’t shrink after a few weeks.
- You have other unexplained symptoms, such as fever, night sweats, or weight loss.
If you have swollen lymph nodes along with these other symptoms, your doctor will want to do some blood tests, a biopsy, or a computed tomography (CT) scan to help make the correct diagnosis.
Most infections that cause a lump behind the ear go away on their own. For example, a mild ear infection that causes swollen lymph nodes may go away on its own. However, bacterial infections require antibiotic treatment.
Some skin conditions that can cause a lump behind the ear are easily treated with over-the-counter or prescription medications. Other skin lumps, such as cysts or lipomas, may need to be removed.
For tumors, treatment depends on whether the tumor is benign or malignant. In most cases, surgery is required to remove the tumor. The larger the tumor, the more complicated the surgery.
A lump behind the ear can have a variety of causes, many of which are not serious. However, if the lump is painful, gets larger, or is accompanied by other symptoms, it should be checked by a doctor.
If you notice a lump behind your ear, you probably don’t know what it is. Lumps can form anywhere on the body, including behind the ear. Most of the time, the cause is not serious and will get better on its own or with minimal treatment.
In rare cases, tumors can form behind the ear, requiring complex treatment. Be sure to tell your doctor if you have lumps and other symptoms behind your ear, especially if they appear suddenly. They can determine what’s causing it and decide on the best course of treatment.
Frequently Asked Questions
Should I be worried about a lump behind my ear?
In most cases, small bumps are nothing to worry about, but you should keep an eye out for bumps that appear suddenly. You should see your doctor if you have other symptoms, such as a fever, or if the lump gets bigger or feels like a marble. This can be a sign of an infection, a skin condition or, in rare cases, a tumor.
How to tell if a lump behind the ear is cancerous?
Cancerous (malignant) lumps are more likely to be firm. They may be irregular in shape and not perfectly round. They’re also held in place so they don’t wobble when you touch them. The only sure way is to see a doctor and have them do tests, such as a biopsy, to rule out cancer.
Are there lymph nodes behind the ear?
Yes. Behind the ear are the lymph nodes behind the ear. These may swell if you have an ear infection. German measles, also known as rubella, can also cause these lymph nodes to swell.