A lump behind the ear is usually referred to a localized area of swelling behind the ear. Painless lumps can be associated with lipoma or benign tumors, while painful lumps are associated with abscesses, acne, or dermatitis. Ear lumps are usually not serious and can be treated with a few home remedies. However, if the lumps or the symptoms persist for too long, it's recommended to seek medical attention.
It’s completely natural to get frightened by something abnormal going on with your body, such as a most evident lump right behind your ear. Along with making you worry about its overall unsightliness, it is also bound to make you frantically wonder as to what is causing it, and whether it can even be treated. And if the lump is accompanied by a feeling of pain or discomfort, it’s only going to make matters worse.
The good news is, there’s usually nothing to worry about. Nonetheless, you do need to be aware of a few things – like what’s causing those lumps to begin with, and what sort of a treatment you may have to seek.
Let’s start with what we really mean by a lump behind the ear.
What Is A Lump Behind The Ear?
A lump behind the ear is usually referred to a localized area of swelling of certain glands called auricular lymph nodes. This can result in the formation of one or multiple lumps that can occur not just behind but on any part of your ear. These parts may include your earlobe or your ear canal. There are some other terms that are often used to describe a lump behind ear, such as a tumor, cyst, bump, and nodule.
Nature, appearance, and size: Lumps behind the ear have the tendency to swing both ways. They can either be completely painless or very painful, they can either be soft or firm to touch, and they may either be big or small in size.
Sometimes, these lumps may maintain the same size all throughout, while in some cases lumps can grow larger either very rapidly or very slowly. Luckily, lumps behind the ear rarely grow larger than the size of a pea.
Some people may also notice either a single lump or multiple lumps, growing in a cluster.
What Causes A Lump Behind The Ear?
Lumps behind the ear are usually a common occurrence and as mentioned earlier, is usually not an indication of something serious.
A painless lump behind the ear can be associated with a variety of causes such as:
- Sebaceous cysts: Noncancerous lumps that develop around oil-producing sebaceous glands.
- Lipoma: A harmless, fatty lump that can develop between the layers of our skin and may grow larger in size eventually.
- Benign tumors: Soft, painless, movable lumps that gradually develop from the salivary gland tissues to parts behind the ears. Although mostly harmless, one particular form called cholesteatoma can destroy the tissues around which may result in dizziness, drainage in the ear, and hearing loss.
- Malignant cancer: Very similar to skin cancers, these (mostly) painless lumps develop behind the ears and may require medical attention if they grow larger in size.
Painful lumps, on the other hand, may be caused by:
- Abscess: Warm, painful lumps that develop when tissue or cells become infected. Our bodies respond to the infection by sending white blood cells to the affected area. As a result, pus begins to develop in a lumpy form.
- Dermatitis: A condition often caused by fatigue, stress, yeast infections, and neurological conditions, dermatitis leads to the buildup of waxy dead skin cells or dry skin. This may result in lumps behind the ear and is often accompanied by inflammation and redness.
- Mastoiditis: A condition caused by an infection of the mastoid bone found behind the ear which can lead to swelling and the formation of lumps behind the ear. Some of the common symptoms associated with this condition are headaches, fevers, and hearing loss.
- Swollen lymph nodes: The swelling of lymph nodes often associated with health issues like the common cold that can cause small tender, soft lumps behind the ears that are painful.
- Acne: A condition that is caused by hormonal changes, stress, or high levels of staph infections on the surface of the skin, including behind the ears.
- Otitis media: An official term for an ear infection, this can result in a swelling behind the ear to give you a lump.
How To Diagnose A Lump Behind The Ear On Your Own
There are certain kinds of lumps behind the ear that warrant medical attention, while some are harmless and can be left alone. It is always recommended to visit a doctor when you notice these lumps. However, some tips can help you determine potential causes of your lump.
Touch Your Lump
- If your lump is painless, it could be a lipoma.
- If your lump consists of tender, localized bumps that feel more irritating than painful and look more like a general swelling, it could be caused by acne or a cyst.
- If your lump is inflamed and feels warm and painful when you touch it, it could be caused by an abscess.
Look Closely At Your Lump
Note: This could be a little difficult at first but if you can pull your earlobe to the front and look sideways into the mirror, you can, at the very least, get a glimpse of what your lump looks like.
- If your lump is tiny and fleshy, it’s most probably a lipoma.
- If your lump looks localized, red, and inflamed, it is most likely a cyst, an abscess, or acne.
- If you find thick, yellow, foul-smelling liquid oozing from your lump, it’s most likely an epidermoid cyst, whereas if your lump is giving off oil, it’s probably a sebaceous cyst.
- If you find your lump leaking green or white colored pus, it’s most likely an abscess.
Listen To Your Body
Sometimes, it is possible to detect the cause of a lump behind the ear by paying attention to the way your body responds to it. For instance, if your lump is accompanied by a fever or a sore throat, it is very likely an infection. If on the other hand, your lump is painless with no symptoms at all, it’s most likely a lipoma.
If you find the signs or the lumps behind your ear getting worse or continuing to persist for too long, do consult your doctor immediately.
Treating Lumps Behind The Ear
Lumps behind the ear caused by lipomas are usually not serious and tend to go away on their own without any treatment. All other causes of lumps behind the ear, however, can be treated depending on what the cause of the lump is.
Home Remedies For Treating Lumps Behind The Ear
In some cases, lumps can even be treated at home. These cases include:
- Mastoiditis: In this case, the lump is caused by an underlying ear infection, which can easily be cured with a mixture of anti-inflammatory olive oil and antifungal garlic oil. Rub one or two drops of this on the infected area every day and this should make the infection go away.
- Lymphadenopathy: This is usually an indication that the swollen node that is causing the lump is in your neck. Gargle with some turmeric water or salt water to do away with the symptoms.
- Cyst and abscess: No matter how tempted you may be, do not burst or “pop” the swelling. Use a warm compress instead, to drain out the fluid from your swelling. This method will also help alleviate some of the pain and discomfort. You can additionally treat a cyst by soaking a cotton swab in some antibacterial tea tree oil and holding it against the cyst for about five minutes. This will not only dry up the fluid inside the cyst but will also reduce the swelling.
When to See a Doctor
Home remedies are usually the best when it comes to treating a condition, but this is only for short periods. If you notice your symptoms refusing to go away and you experience no relief at all, it is time you gave your ear lump some good medical attention.
Do seek out medical help without fail, if:
- Your lump lasts for beyond two weeks, even if it is painless (as this could be a sign of a serious infection).
- Your lump is causing you too much pain or discomfort.
- You find it difficult to move your head or your neck.
- You find it difficult to swallow.
- You feel the area of tenderness is growing or spreading.
- Your swelling becomes inflamed, begins to leak out pus, or ruptures on its own.
- Your lump’s accompanying symptoms don’t lessen over time or are getting worse.