What Causes a Lump Behind Ear?

Doctor with a magnifying glass examining skin behind man's ear.

It can be alarming when you find a lump behind an ear. The good news is that most of these lumps or bumps are not serious health concerns. If you have a bump behind an ear, it is important to know the possible causes and when you should see a doctor for diagnosis or treatment.

Swollen Lymph Node Behind Ear

One of the most common causes of a lump behind an ear is a swollen lymph node. There are many lymph nodes throughout the body that become enlarged when they are actively fighting an infection. When you have a swollen lymph node behind an ear, you likely have an illness.

Lymph nodes commonly swell when you are fighting a nearby infection. There are two groups of lymph nodes that are located behind the ears. Some of the possible infections around the ears that can result in swollen lymph nodes include:

  • Strep throat
  • Ear infection
  • Flu
  • Abscessed or infected tooth
  • Gum disease
  • Tonsilitis
  • Lyme disease
  • Skin infection

There are many possible infections that can trigger a swollen lymph node behind the ear. If you know you have an infection in the throat, mouth, nose or ear, it likely is causing your lump-behind-ear condition.

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Skin Infections and Growths

Some lumps behind the ears may be caused by skin infections or growths. If you have a pea-sized lump behind an ear lobe, it may be a type of skin condition. There are many possible lumps that can appear under the skin anywhere on the body, including a lump behind an ear, including:

  • Acne. A pea-sized lump behind an ear lobe could be a large pimple that will go away on its own within a few days. Some pimples can become abscessed and may be large or painful. They can also cause the lymph node behind the ear to swell.
  • Cyst. A soft lump behind your ear could be a cyst. These fluid-filled sacs contain dead skin and oils, usually disappearing on their own. Cysts should not be painful – if they are painful, an infection may be present that needs treatment.
  • Lipomas. Another skin growth is a lipoma, which is made from fatty tissue. If you have a soft lump behind an ear that you can move around with your fingers, it may be a lipoma. These lumps are not dangerous, but they can be uncomfortable if they press on nerves.
  • Keloids. If you have a pea-sized lump behind an ear lobe, it is possible you have a keloid. This is a rare, raised scar formation that grows beyond the border of a wound – an ear piercing or even a pimple can create a keloid behind the ear.

There are many possible skin conditions that can appear behind the ear and create a lump or bump. Most will resolve on their own, accept keloids. Keloids can continue to grow and become very large. There are treatments to shrink or remove keloids if they become intrusive.

Tumors and Other Serious Conditions

If you have a knot behind an ear, or a growing lump, it may be a sign of a tumor or other serious condition. Mastoiditis is one serious condition that can result in a lump behind the ear. It occurs when an ear infection spreads to the mastoid bone behind the ear. Symptoms include:

  • Red, painful lump behind the ear
  • Ear drainage
  • Trouble hearing
  • Fever
  • Ear and head pain

Mastoiditis requires treatment to stop the infection and protect the ear and bone from further damage. Antibiotics and possibly draining the middle ear fluid or removing the infection from the mastoid bone may be necessary in severe cases.

Tumors are also a possibility when you have a lump behind an ear. They can be benign (harmless) or malignant (cancerous). It is more common for tumors or cancerous growths to form on the neck than behind the ear, but it is possible.

It is impossible to know whether a tumor is benign or malignant by appearance. A biopsy needs to be performed to look at the cells contained within the tumor. Malignant lumps are often hard and fixed in place. They usually do not cause pain.

When to See a Doctor for Bump Behind Ear

If you have a lump, bump or knot behind an ear that does not go away, you should see your doctor. Any lump accompanied by pain or fever should be evaluated to make sure there is not an infection or other health condition causing the lump.
Man touching painful area behind his ear.
Most lumps behind the ear are harmless and will go away on their own. However, if you have other symptoms or the lump keeps growing, you should see your doctor. It can give you peace of mind to receive a professional diagnosis to determine if you need medical treatment.

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