Lymph nodes are small bean-shaped organs, about 1 cm in size, located throughout the body. They are part of the lymphatic system and work in conjunction with the immune system to fight off pathogens. The functions of the lymph nodes include filtering the lymph and are characterized by the presence of white blood cells, which are useful in fighting diseases. The lymph nodes behind the ear are located on the temporal bone and under the posterior auricular muscle. If they are swollen, you can feel them behind the ear with your fingers.
A swollen lymph node behind the ear may be a sign that there is an infection in the affected area. You may suffer from a bacterial, viral, or fungal infection in the ear, throat or eye. The infections that may affect the lymph nodes behind the ear are:
Swollen lymph nodes behind the ear can be temporary or chronic. Symptoms can be different and vary in severity depending on the cause, the most common symptoms of swollen lymph nodes are:
Other symptoms associated with swollen lymph nodes behind the ear may occur in the mouth or throat, like cough, sore throat, jaw pain, toothache. In addition, fever, fatigue, and ear pain may occur.
Swollen lymph nodes are more likely to be benign than malignant. A lymph node can only be determined to be malignant with a biopsy and pathology exame performed by a physician. Benign lymph nodes don't contain cancer cells, while malignant ones do. For swollen lymph nodes, some potential signs they can be malignant are:
If you note any of these symptoms, please see your doctor immediately.
In most cases, swollen lymph nodes resolve on their own within a few days/weeks without complications. If treatment is required, a physician must first determine the cause of the swollen lymph node.
For an acute infection, anti-inflammatory drugs (such as NSAIDs), warm compresses and rest accompanied by antibiotics, when necessary, are often sufficient.
Lymph node abscesses may require surgical drainage. Swollen lymph nodes caused by inflammation or autoimmune disorders are treated with anti-inflammatory drugs such as NSAIDs, cortisone or other types of immunomodulators can be used.
Swollen lymph nodes can also occur in babies, but this is usually harmless, in most cases they have an infectious origin and resolve in a few weeks. They can be caused by bacteria (staphylococcus aureus, streptococcus pyogenes or cat or dog scratch disease) or viruses (cytomegalovirus, herpes simplex, hepatitis B).
An appointment with the pediatrician is necessary if lymph nodes are larger than two centimeters, increase in size for more than two weeks, do not to resolve completely after 2-3 months and if the child suffers from fever, weight loss or night sweats.