A lump behind ear can be painful or painless, small or large, soft or hard etc. Most people describe it as a pea sized bump behind the ear lobe or a strange lump near ear.
When swollen, it can hurt or become sore to touch. What causes these growths on the ear bone? How are they diagnosed and treated?
Pea sized lump
A small knot or lump at the back of the head and just below the ear can be described as a pea-sized, either fleshy or fatty cyst, growth or tumor.
For most people, it is a strange nodule that appears on the ear bone. The size can differ a lot, with some being small lumps behind ears while others appearing to be large.
What does it mean to have a bump behind ear? In most cases, such lumps and bumps do not mean a serious problem and can be neglected.
In some instances though, like when they are infected, it can bean a serious problem that the lump could be a symptom of. This will need treatment.
What do they your ears look like? In children and babies, they look like chickenpox pimples. If they are small enough, they can appear as small acne zits behind ears and on the hairline at the back of head.
Causes and diagnosis
Stress, hormonal changes during pregnancy and during period, ear cancer, psoriasis, insect bites, thyroid problems and some viruses are known to cause ear lumps, lumps and knots.
Other causes may be blood blisters, the swelling of lymph nodes, side effects of vaccinations and ear piercing bumps or keloids. Below, we have discussed these causes and diagnoses in detail.
1. Sebaceous cysts bumps
Sebaceous cysts are bumps under the skin. The bumps are swellings that form on sebaceous glands under the skin. These can form almost anywhere, and can be those sebaceous cysts behind the ear. The growths are filled with sebum – a yellowish substance.
Sebaceous cysts are painless bumps under the skin and are mostly harmless. They are noncancerous though they can cause aesthetic discomfort if they grow large. According to Mayo Clinic, “This abnormal growth of cells may be due to a damaged hair follicle or oil gland in your skin.”
2. Swollen lymph node behind ear
That lump behind ear could be an enlarged lymph node, or swollen lymph node, also called lymphadenopathy. The United States National Library of Medicine describes them as growths that are common at the back of neck, under the jaw or on the jawline, back of the head and behind the ears.
Lumps from swollen lymph nodes behind the ear are generally caused by ear infections, viral infections such as flu, colds and throat problems such as tonsillitis. Mono or mononucleosis is also another cause of small, pea sized knots behind ears, jawline and in neck.
3. Mastoid bone infection
Mastoiditis is the infection of the bone behind ear. It is caused by ear infections that are left untreated.
The primary symptoms of mastoid bone infection is a painful lump behind ear. A pus-filled cyst usually develops on the mastoid bone or on the skin at the back of the ear.
Bumps on mastoid bone are treated with antibiotics although a minor surgery may be done if they keep growing.
Large lumps on mastoid bone are removed surgically but other treatments may be administered to reduce the chances of further infections.
Some forms of cancer can cause lymph nodes to swell around the ears and neck. The swelling of lymph nodes behind the ear could be a sign of lymphoma, ear cancer or cancer of the blood. [Source –MD Health.]
Other malignant growths of cancer can also grow behind the ears. Salivary gland as well as skin cancers commonly show signs such as fleshy growths behind ears.
- Ear cancer growths keep growing, won’t go away and may be painless. If you have painless bumps behind ear that keep getting bigger, see a doctor for proper diagnosis and treatment. Cancers are life threatening but can be treated successfully if the treatment is started early enough.
- Other important signs of outer ear cancers include “pink lumps that have a hard scaly surface. They often bleed easily and ulcerate.” [Cancerresearchuk.org]. They may also be itchy or appear as growing moles behind your ear.
5. Benign tumor
Benign tumors are growths in the ear or on the outer ear. They appear as small sacks or nodules and are usually harmless. Benign tumors can feel as movable lumps under the skin. They are common on the scalp, in the ear canal and behind the ear. Sometimes, benign tumors can be found on the earlobe as well.
Another form of benign tumor is called a cholesteatoma. It is a growth near the ear that distracts hearing. It may feel movable and can cause dizziness and ear drainage. Benign tumors may not require treatment. However, they are surgically removed if they cause cosmetic problems.
6. Lipoma (movable lumps on ear bone)
Fatty lumps, also called lipomas, are movable bumps under the skin. These can form behind your ear bone and cause some sort of discomfort. As it grows large, a lipoma nodule will become noticeable and moves under the skin. Lipoma bumps are said to be the most common noncancerous growths of soft tissues and can appear on wrists, legs, on skull bone and behind the ear.
7. Piercing or earring
Cartilage piercings get infected sometimes. Part of the signs and symptoms of an infected cartilage piercing include a red bump on the ear. Bacterial infections on piercings and earrings can cause the formation of ear bumps and cysts.
According to MrDoctor.org, bumps after ear piercings could mean you have a “pathogen named staphylococcus aureus and pseudomnas aeruginosa.” When left untreated, these infections on piercings can cause a permanent growth or deformation.
8. Psoriasis, acne zit or pimple behind ear
Hair follicles can get clogged to cause acne. Skin pores can also be blocked by excess oil and skin cells. This can result in bumps behind ears. These bumps can easily grow big and feel like painful solid lumps under the skin behind the ear.
Acne vulgaris is the type that develops deep in the skin. It can form lumps that will feel hard and painful to touch. They can also be difficult to pop. Anti-acne medications can help stop acne bumps from forming on the skin but this is usually more of a genetic problem.
9. Throat infection, STDs, virus
Viral infections as well as bacterial infections in the throat can cause pain and swellings in the neck and around ears.
Mononucleosis (mono), STDs such as HIV/AIDs, oral herpes and even chickenpox can cause swollen lumps on jawline, throat and on inner and outer ears.
Viral infections on the skin such as HIV, measles, mumps and chickenpox have been listed by the WebMD as causes of pearly colored bumps on the skin. Others include rubella, cytomegalovirus (CMV).
Bacterial infections that are known to cause ear bumps include strep throat and abscess from a bacterial infection. These infections can cause firm, hard or soft lumps at the back of ears, on the neck, inside throat and mouth.
10. Insect bites e.g. bee stings
Swollen glands at the back of the ear may also be as a result of the activity to fight off infections from insect bites. Examples of insect bites that are dangerous and can cause swellings and knots to form on the skin include wasp bites and bee stings.
The swollen lump is a localized reaction to the venom from the sting or insect bite. The swelling from an insect bite should not persist for more than one week. Your body should be able to get rid of the venom on its own, and the bump will go away, eventually.
Have you noticed a pimple on nose and ears where glasses sit or fit? Glasses can cause a lot of discomfort especially if they are ill-fitting.
For some people, a lump, pimple, knot or rash behind ears can be an allergic reaction to the material from which the frames of your glasses are made. This rash or pimple will form on the nose bridge or sides of the head where glasses sit.
Tightly fitting glasses will also cause you to sweat a lot around the nose and back of ears. The pores get plugged and an infected cyst will form beneath the skin too.
12. TMJ lump on jaw and ears
Temporomandibular disorders (TMD) can also cause movable bumps below the jawline and on the neck. The cause of lumps is unknown. According to WebMD, doctors believe that TMJ disorder lumps “symptoms arise from problems with the muscles of your jaw or with the parts of the joint itself.”
13. Glandular fever or mono
Glandular fever is a disorder that causes swollen glands in the neck, armpit, behind ear, groin etc. It is a viral infection that is common in adults in their young age. This fever is also known as infectious mononucleosis.
Other symptoms of glandular fever include fatigue, fever and a badly sore throat. You might experience pain around eyes and ears. Small lumps can also swell behind the nose and ears and cause difficulty in breathing. These symptoms should not be ignored and you should seek medical attention immediately.
Other possible causes of lumps and bumps under the skin behind the ear include thyroid disorders and cancers, vertigo, reaction to vaccinations and stress. Sinus problems, blood blisters and hormonal imbalances are also said to cause a small lump behind ear.
Psoriasis, in extreme cases, can also be the reason for those knots. While some lumps can go away or heal on their own, always get a diagnosis before making any conclusions.
Sometimes a biopsy will be able to identify what they are and the possible causes before treatment is given. But what are the symptoms that are likely to accompany nodules and knots behind the earlobe? Below are some of the signs and symptoms related to these bumps and what they mean.
Hard Lump Behind Ear on Bone
Hard lumps in the neck region and the back of ears can appear in children as well as adults. These are likely to be pilomatricomas – a benign tumor on the skin that forms as a result of calcification in the hair matrix.
These usually start as small hard lumps but end up as large lumps behind the ears. According to Medscape.com, these growths occur mostly during the first two decades of life. Other than appearing on the ear bone, they are likely to form on the neck and head too.
- Swollen lymph nodes can also become hard especially if the problem is recurrent.
- Treatment for hard bumps beneath the skin is preferably surgical excision.
- In some cases, the knots won’t go away and will keep coming back after removal. In addition, if they start as small lumps and grow into bigger sizes, see your GP for a biopsy or ultrasound to determine their cause.
- Cancer may also present cases of growing tough or hard lumps on your skin.
Sore, painful and hurts
Painful bumps near ears can cause a lot of discomfort. They hurt when you touch them. Other than appearing on the ear lobe or behind it, they can show at the base of your skull, by the hairline and back of neck. Lumps that hurt can cause dizziness, fatigue and headaches if you keep touching them. Some people get fevers too. But what are these sore knots near ears?
Painful bumps are most likely to be blind pimples. Blind pimples are also referred to as closed comedones. They are common in people who have an acne prone skin. Blind pimples are painful and appear under the surface. The pain comes from the fact that they lie close to the nerves, especially near the ears, face and head. So, they really hurt when you touch them.
A lump that doesn’t hurt or is painless is likely to be a skin cyst. These are non-cancerous pockets of tissue under the skin. They are normally filled with fluid, sebum, debris and pus. Painless skin cysts behind ear feel like big peas beneath the surface of the skin.
Ganglion cysts are also painless. They are, however, immovable. They can be as large as a plum or as small as a pea. Ganglion cysts are usually caused by an injury to the tissues near a cartilage or bone. Lumps with no pain can be left alone because they are likely to clear on their own.
Bumps, rashes and knots in ears indicate symptoms of conditions that could be serious. As such, other symptoms may be experienced other than pain and the bumps feeling hard or tough. With viral and bacterial infections, you are likely to experience a sore throat, sore neck, fatigue and dizziness as well.
1. Sore to touch or hot to touch
Sore bumps are mostly caused by irritation. If, for instance, you get a pimple behind your ear that feels hot to tough, it could be caused by the irritation of trying to pop it. Infected lumps and bumps can also feel hot to touch and sore.
Try to avoid disturbing the area. You can use a cold compress to relieve the pain on your ear. If it persists, it could be an ear infection that needs treatment. See an ENT immediately for proper diagnosis and treatment.
2. Itchy lumps in ear
An itchy ear bump comes from an irritated skin. Some infections and allergies can cause the skin around ears to become itchy.
The cause for a small, itchy lump behind your ears is likely to be acne, eczema or psoriasis. Eczema is a more common cause with possible small lumps forming on the skin. They may present as raised lumps that feel like a bruise, inflamed, scaly and dry bumps on the ear bone.
3. Hearing loss
Most lumps and growths that cause hearing loss usually grow inside the ear. However, ear infections can show symptoms even on the outside of the ear. Acoustic neuroma, chronic sinusitis, Meniere’s disease and cauliflower ear are some of the ear problems that can cause ear loss and bumps or growths on the external ear.
4. Lumps that keep coming back or won’t go away
Do you have a lump that lasts a year, comes and goes and won’t go away? Lymphoma lumps that keep coming back are dangerous and should be treated early enough. In most cases, recurring lumps are a sign of cancerous growths.
Cancer is a life threatening disease and should be reported early enough. Treatments such as chemotherapy, radiotherapy etc. are known to be more successful if started early enough. Pink bumps behind ears that are draining pus, a clear fluid or keep bleeding now and then should be taken seriously. See a doctor immediately.
How to get rid of it
In order to get rid of little lumps near ears, the cause must be identified. Treating the cause is a sure way of getting rid of the symptoms completely. Treatments and cures range from topical cream applications to oral medications. Surgery may also be an option depending on the extent to which the lump will have growth. Here are home remedies and treatments to get rid of bumps behind ears.
a) Tea tree oil remedy for sebaceous cysts
If the lumps are sebaceous cysts, tea tree oil can help get rid of them. Here’s how to use this natural home remedy.
- Dilute tea tree oil with a little water.
- Dip a cotton swab into the solution and make sure it is saturated.
- Place and hold the swab on the cyst for about five minutes.
- Remove and wash with an oil-free soap.
Repeat this procedure twice a day until the lump disappears. Tea tree oil contains antibacterial and antifungal properties. It will help the cyst dry up faster as well as reduce the swelling.
b) Gargling salt water
If the lump behind ear is caused by swollen lymph nodes as a result of ear and throat infections, salt water gargles can help get rid of the bacterial infections.
- Make salt solution using warm water.
- Drink but don’t swallow.
- Tilt your head backwards at an angle of 45 degrees.
- Gargle with the water by making a continuous “g” sound.
- Repeat this home remedy twice a day to relieve swollen lymph nodes behind ears.
c) Garlic oil and Mullein oil cure
Garlic and mullein oil are also good home treatments for ear problems. If the mastoid bone is infected and has a bump, pour a little warm mullein oil in your ear. It will clear the infection. Garlic oil will also help relieve ear pain or aches fast.
d) Warm compress and painkillers
Otitis media can cause pain in the middle ear. You can manage the pain using either warm compresses or over-the-counter pain killers. Do not use OTC medications for children with ear problems. If warm compresses are not able to relieve the pain, see a GP or an ENT for proper treatment.
Treatments for hard painful bumps behind your ears caused by mastoiditis, your doctor will prescribe antibiotics. These are usually given intravenously. In serious cases, a surgical operation is done to drain get rid of the bony mastoid. Here are the common treatments used to remove a lump behind ear.
Antibiotic treatments are administered if the cause of swollen lymph nodes behind ears is a bacterial infection. In most cases, bacterial infections come with colds, mono, flu and tonsillitis. Prescribed antibiotic medications may be oral or intravenous. Ceftriaxone is one of the treatments that are likely to be given.
If your doctor prescribes antibiotics, ensure that you follow its full course to avoid resistance and recurrence of the problem.
b) Topical corticosteroid creams
Your doctor might prescribe topical medications such as hydrocortisone cream or calamite lotion. These will help relieve symptoms of dermatitis such as itching, which cause skin rashes and red bumps. If the itching does not stop, you may want to get oral antihistamines. An example is Benadryl.
c) Surgical excision to remove growths
Cancerous growths behind your ear can be removed surgically. Other treatments for cancer include chemotherapy, radiation and chemical treatment. Treatment will depend on the type of cancer that is causing a hard lump behind ear.
d) Anti-acne medications
While acne can heal on its own with time, some medications can help it clear faster. Treatment of infected acne pimples may include antibacterial medications. However, you might have to take anti-acne cures.
Benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid and retinoid creams are some of the common options used to get rid of acne vulgaris. But if your acne is caused by hormonal imbalance, hormonal therapy is recommended.
Tender Lump on Child
My child has a small, tender lump behind his left ear. What is it? In toddlers or children under the age of 5 years, lumps and bumps can form almost anywhere inside or outside the ear. This is because children are prone to getting ear infections than adults.
The ear drum gets the most infections in children and can end up with symptoms such as hearing loss, soft lumps inside the ear canal and even outside. Tender lumps should be examined by a dermatologist or an ENT before treatment of any kind is applied.
According to WebMD, serious infections in children are likely to cause small, tender but firm bumps behind ears, jawline and neck in children. This is due to the swelling or enlarging of glands. They could also be due to injuries to the side of the head, the ear, neck or jaw. It is important that you do not try to pop the even if they appear as boils, cysts or abscesses. Popping them will only increase the risk of infection.
- Mayo Clinic: Epidermoid cysts (sebaceous cysts)
- United States National Library of Medicine: Swollen Lymph Nodes on Back of Ears, Neck, Head and on jawline
- Cancer Research UK: Cancer of the outer ear
- NLM MedlinePlus: Benign ear cyst or tumor