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Lump behind the ear: Why it's there and what to do next

Last update on Apr, 14, 2023

Lump behind the ear: Causes and remedies

Sometimes small lumps appear on the back of our ears, causing discomfort or itching. Lumps behind the ear can be the result of inflammation or infection. In certain conditions like mastoiditis, middle ear infections or mumps, ear lumps are often associated with pain. In this article, you'll learn all there is to know about lumps behind the ear. If you'd like to find out more about your hearing health, please consult a hearing care professional at Miracle-Ear

Why do I have a lump behind my ear? Possible causes

In most cases, lumps behind the ears are harmless. They are rarely a sign of a dangerous or life-threatening problem. Several conditions can cause knots, bumps, or lumps behind the ears, including:

A lump behind or near the ear is also one of the symptoms of acute external otitis, associated with pain, fever and yellow discharge. The swelling is localized in and may affect the outer ear or ear canal.

Parotitis is a viral infection that manifests itself with painful enlargement of the parotid glands and lump behind the ear. When this occurs, the swelling can extend in front of and below the ear, up to the lower portion of the jaw or face.

A lump behind the ear can be a symptom of mastoiditis, especially when the swelling appears in children. 

Mastoiditis is an inflammatory process of the mastoid bone (a large bone behind the ear), which causes intense pain with a lump and swelling in or around the ear. Other symptoms of this condition are ear discomfort, fever, drainage, headache and redness of the ear. If you have these symptoms, it is important to visit a doctor promptly for evaluation and treatment options.

Epidermal cysts are small, fluid-filled sacs that can appear anywhere on the skin and are often caused by blocked skin glands. One of the most common types are sebaceous cysts, which are often seen on the head, neck and back. These result from clogged sebaceous glands that produce oily secretions that lubricate the skin. 

The epidermal cyst can vary in size, they are usually harmless and no intervention is needed. In some cases epidermal cysts can become infected resulting in red, painful and larger cysts. If this occurs, they can be treated by a healthcare professional. 

Inflamed and swollen lymph nodes are one of the most common reasons for a lump to develop behind the ear. They are the body's reaction to bacteria and viruses. The lymph nodes behind the ear are called posterior auricular lymph nodes, and if they become swollen, they usually feel like small, painless lumps behind the ear that are very small in size.

They are usually caused by a skin or ear infection in that area (such as otitis media). Most of the time they are painless and return to their normal size in 2-3 weeks. If they start to become painful, you should visit a doctor to receive a full diagnosis and support.

Lipomas are harmless lumps of fat that develop under the skin and can appear anywhere on the body. They vary in size. Some are small and often unnoticeable while others can be pea-sized, soft and movable.. These larger lumps are usually between 2-3 cm in diameter and painless. It can be quite tricky to distinguish lipomas from an epidermal cyst as both can surface in any area where there is fatty tissue, but compared to a skin cyst, lipomas are usually found deeper in the skin and feel much softer.

If they cause discomfort and pain, it is best to have them surgically removed. Lipomas can also be removed by a professional through liposuction using a large syringe and needle.

Acne is a very common skin condition, especially in younger people. The pores and follicles of the skin become clogged with fluids and shed skin cells. This can cause a swelling on the skin that can become infected and inflamed, including behind the ear.

Acne lumps behind the ears may appear black, white or reddish and may surface on the face, neck or back, among other places. When seeking treatment for acne, it is important to see a dermatologist as they will assess your case and prescribe the most suitable treatment.

In some types of cancer, such as lymph gland cancer or leukemia, a lump behind the ear can be the first sign of the disease. If a lump is hard, fixed in place or uneven in shape, it might be a sign that it is cancerous.

It is strongly recommended that you see a doctor if your lump is painful, appears suddenly or is accompanied by other symptoms.

Lump behind the ear

Prevention is key

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When shoud you be worried about a lump behind the ear?

Although most lumps behind the ear are completely harmless and will go away in a few weeks without treatment, you should see a doctor if any of the following occur:

  • The lump remains unchanged after 2-3 weeks
  • The lump is painful or oozing
  • The lump appears suddenly
  • The swelling increases in size or shape
  • The lump does not move or is in a "fixed" position behind the ear
  • Other symptoms such as fever, malaise, or weight loss are present

Your doctor will usually diagnose the lump through a simple exam and prescribe treatment, such as antibiotics, if needed. Occasionally, a lump may require further investigation or imaging tests, such as X-rays and MRIs.

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How to get rid of a lump behind the ear: Treatment options

Treatment depends on the cause of the lump behind the ear:

  • Abscess: Some abscesses require simple drainage to remove pus, while others are more complicated and may need to be treated with surgery. Surgical procedures are more likely to include antibiotics due to the chances of infection.
  • Sebaceous cysts: The sebaceous glands produce fluids and sometimes become blocked, thus creating cysts. Most require no treatment, but if they cause soreness or swelling, you should see a doctor.
  • Acne: Most cases can be treated with topical remedies, but for some people acne can be severe and may require specific approaches applied and monitored by a dermatologist.
  • Dermatitis: Lotions or creams are often recommended to help with itching and discomfort. Antifungal agents may also be suggested if there is a yeast infection.
  • Swollen lymph nodes: In this case, the underlying cause of the swelling is treated. This could mean that antibiotics or a biopsy may be needed.
  • Mastoiditis: This must be treated immediately with antibiotics, and in some situations, a procedure is needed to drain the middle ear or remove part of the mastoid bone.
  • Otitis media: This middle ear infection often clears up on its own within 48 hours. With recurrent otitis media, an ear tube is used to drain fluid from the middle ear.
  • Malignant cancer: These growths can be treated with chemotherapy or radiation. The specific treatment depends on the type of cancer and its stage.

While in mild cases, natural remedies may help treat the condition, in severe cases, natural remedies will not solve the problem. When using natural remedies, it is best to keep in mind that they are designed to help the lump disappear faster but not get rid of it entirely by clearing the area and inhibiting the proliferation of bacteria and microbes. 

Some remedies include aloe vera, castor oil and apple cider vinegar application to the area where the lump is present.

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Care for your ears

One of the best ways to care for your ears and prevent hearing loss is to get them properly examined by a hearing professional. Find your nearest Miracle-Ear store to get started on your journey to better hearing.

A lump behind the ear – FAQs

If the lump is caused by an infection, it may either clear up on its own as your body fights off the infection, or it may go away with some anti-inflammatory medications.

If the infection has caused a collection of pus (an abscess) to form, it may go away, but it usually needs to be drained by a doctor.

A lump behind the ear caused by an infection can be painful because the body's immune response is reacting to the infection, and one of the symptoms of this reaction is pain that warns you that something is wrong. If the lump is due to trauma, the pain you feel is most likely the result of damage around the area of the swelling.

Lumps behind the ear can get worse when fluid or blood collects in and around the area of swelling. If the lump is due to a trauma, it should decrease over time. A lump due to infection can grow when pus builds up under the skin or when lymph nodes swell in response to the infection. Swelling can also get worse if abnormal cells or proteins (such as keratin) build up.

Usually, a lump behind the ear is not particularly dangerous and will go away on its own or with simple medications like antibiotics for an infection. Sometimes, however, swelling behind the ear can indicate a serious infection of the mastoid, the bone behind the ear. Mastoid infection, called mastoiditis, is dangerous because it can spread to the brain.

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