Lump behind the ear – When to see a doctor?

Swollen Lymph nodes behind ear
Medically reviewed by Richard Honaker M.D.


A lump behind the ear can be concerning. In some cases, they can indicate something serious like cancer. Lumps are usually non-cancerous and can be due to a swollen lymph node. Swollen lymph nodes happen in response to infections such as colds, coughs, etc. In any case, you must see a doctor if you have a swollen lump behind the ear.

What causes a lump behind the ear?

One major reason for the lump behind the ear is the lymph nodes. The lymph nodes behind the ear is called the posterior auricular lymph nodes. If your lymph nodes are swollen, it is likely due to an infection, illness, or injury. Swollen lymph nodes behind the ear may be a result of:


The most common benign cause of swollen lymph nodes is cold. However, a viral or bacterial infection may result in swollen lymph nodes. The formal term for this is lymphadenopathy. A lump due to a cold behind the ear goes away when the bacterial or viral infection subsides.

Ear infection

The body responds to infections by transporting white blood cells to the affected area to fight the invading cells. This can lead to fluid accumulation and swelling in the region, and an ear infection can cause swollen lymph nodes. To treat the lump, it is necessary to treat the ear infection first.

Eye Infection

In case of an infection, swollen lymph nodes of the region are a typical response. Eye infection can be due to a virus or bacteria. It is necessary to treat the eye infection to treat the lump behind your ear.

HIV Infection

Swollen lymph nodes are also a symptom of HIV. Although, in case of opportunistic infection, lymph nodes can become swollen in the later stages. HIV infection can be one reason leading to a lump behind your ear.

A lump behind the ear may be an indication of something serious. You should pay attention to it even if it is painless.

Sinus Infection

A sinus infection may be one of the reasons for swollen lymph nodes in the head and cervical region. You may notice a lump behind your ear due to a sinus infection.

Infected tooth

A dental infection is yet another cause of swollen lymph nodes in the neck region. Any infection can lead to swollen lymph nodes, thus causing a lump behind your ear.

Skin Infection

Boils, abscesses, or skin infections can lead to swelling of the linked lymph nodes. Lymphadenitis can occur due to skin infections caused by streptococcus and staphylococcus. It would be best if you discussed your symptoms with your doctor so he can evaluate your condition based on that.

Strep Throat

Painful and swollen lymph nodes in the neck are a common symptom that occurs in the case of strep throat. To treat a lump behind your ear, you will need to get the strep throat treatment.


Mononucleosis is a viral infection characterized by swollen lymph nodes, fever, chills, and fatigue. It can cause a lump behind your ear. Your doctor will evaluate your symptoms and find the cause for a lump behind your ear.


Swollen lymph nodes are a common finding in people who have lupus. These are usually formed in the neck, armpits, and groin. These can cause a lump behind the ear.

Rheumatoid arthritis

Autoimmune diseases cause chronic inflammation in the body that can result in swollen lymph nodes. If you have a lump behind your ear, this can be one reason behind it.


Cancer such as lymphoma or cancer originating in other areas moves to the lymphatic system, and the nodes will swell. 

Antiseizure Drugs (such as Gabapentin)

A drug reaction can result in fever, rash, and swollen glands, leading to a lump behind the ear. Talk to your doctor about your symptoms so he can rule out the possibility of anything unusual.

Cat Scratch Fever

Infectious illness caused by cat scratches can lead to chronic swelling of the lymph nodes, leading to a lump behind the ear or any other parts of your body where lymph node swelling occurs.


Untreated conditions can cause the infection to spread to the nearby tissues and result in periodontal disease, which eventually causes swollen lymph nodes. 

Mouth Sores

Canker sores or abscesses in the mouth can be another cause of swollen lymph nodes, leading to the swelling behind your ear. 


German measles, such as Rubella, can cause lymph nodes to swell along with other symptoms of fever and fatigue. If you suspect you have measles, you should immediately seek medical attention for the appropriate treatment.


Swollen lymph nodes and tenderness in the neck are common findings that occur in the case of tonsillitis as well. This can lead to a lump behind the ear.


Symptoms of toxoplasmosis include fever, sore throat, myalgias, headache, swollen lymph nodes, and fatigue. This can cause a swollen lump behind the ear.


TB typically causes painful swelling of one or more lymph nodes. The anterior or posterior cervical chains or supra clavicular nodes are mostly affected. You will need to treat TB in order to get rid of a swollen lump behind the ear.

Sézary Syndrome

A sézary syndrome is an aggressive form of blood cancer; swollen nodes can be one of the symptoms. Discuss with a doctor about your symptoms and try getting immediate medical help if you had a swollen lump behind the ear for weeks.


Symptoms of shingles include a fluid-filled, painful rash. In addition, some people may have tender and swollen lymph nodes. Shingles can cause a lump behind the ear and need an appropriate treatment.

Other possible causes

Other possible causes of a swollen lump behind the ea include the following:

  • Acne
  • Cyst 
  • Lipoma: fatty tissue under the skin

You should discuss with your doctor if you have had a swollen lump behind the ear for more than a week.

Read more: Swollen lymph nodes in the neck

Swollen lymph nodes behind the ear

A swollen lymph node is often your body’s way of telling you something is off inside your body. Any node swollen more than 1 cm in diameter is considered ‘abnormal.’ The medical term for a single swollen lymph node is lymphadenopathy.

Swollen lymph nodes behind the ear or neck may indicate an upper respiratory infection, such as a cold. In rare cases, it can be a sign of something more serious. 

Read More: What Causes Swollen Lymph Nodes Under The Jaw

A lump behind the ear may save you from a serious underlying condition if treated on time. Get professional advice.

Symptoms of infected lymph nodes

  • Swollen lymph node
  • The area may be tender to the touch.
  • Nodes may be soft or matted together.
  • The skin over the nodes may appear red. 
  • Nodes may become filled with pus. 
  • Fluid may drain from the nodes onto the skin.

How to check your lymph nodes behind the ear

  • Start at the lymph nodes in front of the ear (1).  Use your fingertips to feel the area in a gentle circular motion 
  • Check your nodes in the order shown in the image above. Always start with the front of the ear and finish just above the collarbone. 
  • Check both sides of the body to compare for size. A swelling may only be the size of a pea. 
  • When checking your neck, tilting your head towards the side you examine can help relax the muscles
  • Press your fingers under the muscle to look for swelling 
  • When checking above the collarbone, first hunch your shoulder and bring your elbows forward to relax your skin. 

Read More: Parotid Gland Swelling: Causes, Symptoms and Treatments

How to prevent swollen lymph nodes behind the ear?

Swollen lymph can easily be prevented by applying a warm compress over the affected glands under the ear. A washcloth can be dipped in hot water and used gently for 5-10 minutes on or under the affected earlobe.

Other than warm compress, NSAIDs like acetaminophen (Tylenol) and Ibuprofen (Advil) can be taken over the counter for immediate pain relief. Practicing good hygiene and keeping ears clean reduces the risk of infections that can cause swollen lymph nodes.

Minimizing exposure to infections and individuals suffering from those will help lower the chances of developing swollen lymph nodes.

Staying up-to-date with vaccinations and maintaining a healthy lifestyle will boost your immune system. By getting vaccinated and practicing a balanced diet, regular exercise, and stress management, you can support overall health and reduce the risk of infections like swollen lymph nodes and others.

Is it normal for lymph nodes to swell on one side?

Yes, it is normal for the lymph nodes to swell on one side. Enlargement of lymph nodes on one side of the body can occur in response to nearby infections, triggering the immune system’s defense mechanism innate in the human body.

These nodes are vital lymphatic system components that filter harmful substances like bacteria and viruses. This type of mechanism will result in temporary swelling. However, if the swelling accompanying the pain persists, getting yourself checked for the proper diagnosis is good, as it can also be severe.

When to Consult a Doctor

Many different reasons can cause a lump behind the ear. Don’t waste time worrying. Connect with a doctor immediately when you notice it to rule out the possibility of anything serious.

Swelling or lump behind the ear may be painful or painless. It is best to consult a professional in any case.

FAQs about swollen lymph nodes answered by Your Doctors Online team

How long does a swollen lymph node behind the ear take to go away?

In most cases, the swelling subsides in a few days to weeks. However, if it persists beyond that, an evaluation is usually required.

What does a cancerous lump behind the ear feel like?

Most cancerous lumps are hard and painless. Moreover, they may be associated with other symptoms.

How do you know if a swollen lymph node is serious?

If the swelling and swollen lymph node is persistent and stays for more than one week, complex and untouchable, it depicts that the lymph node is severe and needs medical attention.

How quickly do cancerous lymph nodes swell?

Cancerous lymph nodes start to appear like any other temporary lymph node. The only difference is no home remedy will work on it. It will persist longer and affect your overall health, e.g., lethargy and fatigue.

What does a cancerous lump behind the ear look like?

The cancerous lump behind the ear lobe will look like a pear-shaped yellow bump, growing gradually to a bigger size than usual. It will grow bigger to 5 cm and appear harder than average.

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