What Can Cause a Swollen Preauricular Lymph Node?

Concerned man touching his neck on sides checking his swollen preauricular lymph nodes.

There are lymph nodes or glands throughout the body that play an important role in your immune system. In the head and neck, there are several lymph nodes, including the preauricular lymph node that is located directly in front of each ear. Lymph nodes can swell when they are fighting a nearby infection or disease. If you have a swollen preauricular lymph node, there are a few different conditions that may be causing this reaction.

What Does the Preauricular Lymph Node Do?

Lymph nodes filter fluid from surrounding tissues to remove any threatening elements to the body. Normally, lymph nodes are small and firm, about the size of a bean. The preauricular lymph node serves the ear, eyes, mouth and midface areas. These glands remove fluids, draining and eliminating them from the midface. When you have a swollen preauricular lymph node, it can indicate inflammation or infection that is causing fluid buildup.

When a lymph node is fighting inflammation or infection in the area, it can become enlarged and may be tender. A swollen preauricular lymph node will result in a lump in front of the ear that may be painful. This swelling can alert you to possible infections or serious health issues in your face or body that may require medical treatment.

Causes of a Swollen Preauricular Lymph Node

While it is possible for a lymph node to be swollen due to a body-wide disease like lymphoma or viral infection, it is usually caused by a nearby infection or injury. When the preauricular lymph gland becomes swollen, especially on its own, it is likely a problem in the localized midface area. Here are some of the common causes of a swollen preauricular lymph node.

Abscessed or Infected Tooth
Bacteria or decay in a tooth can cause infection inside the tooth, leading to an abscess and swelling in the tissues. The preauricular lymph gland may swell as it tries to fight the tooth infection. Infected teeth are usually painful, and the infection can cause bad breath and swelling in the surrounding gums. If your facial lymph nodes are swollen with other infected tooth symptoms, you should see your dentist for treatment.
Ear Infections
Colds, flu and allergies can cause excess fluid to build up in the ears, which can lead to an ear infection. Swimmer’s ear is also a cause of ear infections. Infection in the ear canals can cause ear pain and a fever – it also may result in swollen lymph nodes in front of and behind the ear. Ear infections can be very painful and cause equilibrium issues. If your preauricular lymph node is swollen with ear pain, you should contact your doctor or ENT specialist for treatment.
Eye Infections
There are different types of eye infections, including various kinds of conjunctivitis, or pink eye, that can cause the preauricular lymph node to swell. Parinaud oculoglandular syndrome is one of the eye infections that can result in inflammation around one eye, as well as redness, discharge, eye pain and fever. If you have an enlarged lymph gland in front of the ear combined with eye infection symptoms, you should see your doctor. Parinaud oculoglandular syndrome can be caused by cat scratch fever, mumps, mononucleosis or tuberculosis.
Salivary Gland Infection
There are salivary glands – the parotid glands – that are located in the upper jaw near the preauricular lymph nodes. If these salivary glands become infected, it can cause swelling in the nearby lymph nodes. Symptoms of a parotid gland infection include dry mouth, redness on the outside of the face, bad taste in the mouth and pain in the mouth when eating. This type of infection is usually bacterial and may require treatment with antibiotics.
Cancer
While rare, it is possible for cancer to cause a swollen preauricular lymph node. Lymphoma begins in the cells of the lymphatic system and it can affect any of the dozens of lymph glands throughout the body, including those in the face or in front of the ear. Symptoms of lymphoma including painless swelling of any of the lymph nodes, paired with loss of appetite, weight loss, congestion, pressure in the related area, fever and other symptoms. If you have lymph node swelling, it is important to see a doctor to eliminate lymphoma as a cause.

Woman touching her swollen preauricular lymph nodes.

If you are experiencing swelling in your preauricular lymph gland, it is important to note any accompanying symptoms that may be causing this reaction. You may have a dental issue or infection that needs treatment. Lymph nodes that quickly become very large and are tender can be a sign of a health issue, especially if the skin over them is red and it is accompanied by a high fever. If you are concerned about a swollen preauricular lymph node, contact your doctor to determine if you need treatment.