Swollen Lymph Nodes Behind the Ear

Last updated: September 2, 2021

Contributed by:
Richard Honaker M.D.
Primary Care Physician
View Full Profile

Ever notice that when you get sick, you also get sore? Swollen Lymph nodes behind the ear and in the neck can make swallowing and moving your head painful. So why does this happen? 

Your lymph nodes will swell up for various reasons, but most commonly, it is a reaction to an illness, injury, or infection. When lymph nodes swell, they can range in size from a small pea to a giant cherry. Here is how one of our patients presented:

My hard immoveable swelling behind the ear was a sign of cancer – Our Patient Stories.

I had noticed muffled noise as well as sharp shooting pain in my right ear along with hard immoveable swelling behind the ear. I was taking over-the-counter decongestants and painkillers, thinking it was due to an ear infection. 

One day I stumbled upon Your Doctors Online applications, and after chatting with four different online doctors there, I was referred to my local physician. They were suspecting that I might have Cancer. 

I was in a state of panic and managed to visit my GP the following week. It turns out, my physician also said the same thing, and now I am waiting for a biopsy which is scheduled for the end of this week.” – Alex W.




So what are lymph nodes? Well, lymph nodes play a vital role in your overall health. Read on to learn everything you need to know about your lymphatic system and what swollen lymph nodes behind the ear could mean for your health. 

What are Lymph Nodes?

Source: Canva

Lymph nodes play an essential role in your overall health. They are small ovals of lymphatic tissue that are found along the lymphatic vessels. Your body’s lymphatic system is made up of vessels, nodes, and lymph fluid. 

This system works together to remove impurities, waste, fluid, viruses, and bacteria from the body.

Read more: Swollen lymph nodes in the neck

The Role of Lymph Nodes

Types of swollen lymph nodes

Source: Canva

Lymph nodes act as a sift to filter out impurities along the vessels. The lymph nodes contain immune cells that help to fight and break down infection by destroying the germs in the lymph fluid called lymphocytes. Lymphocytes are infection-fighting white blood cells. 

There are two main types of lymphocytes:

  • B lymphocytes (B cells): These cells make antibodies which are proteins to help protect the body from bacteria and viruses.
  • T lymphocytes (T cells): These cells destroy germs or abnormal cells, which boost other immune cells’ activity.  

Swollen Lymph Nodes Behind the Ear

swollen lymph nodes behind the ear

Source: Canva

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. 

Reasons for Swollen Lymph Nodes Behind the Ear

reasons of posterior auricular

Source: Canva

The lymph nodes behind the ear are 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:

    • Cold
    • Ear infection
    • Eye infection
    • HIV infection
    • Flu
    • Sinus infection
    • Infected tooth
    • Skin infection
    • Strep throat
    • Mononucleosis
    • Lupus
    • Rheumatoid arthritis
    • Cancer such as lymphoma or cancer that originated in other areas moves to the lymphatic system the nodes will swell. 
    • Antiseizure and antimalarial drugs
    • Medication or allergic reactions to medication
    • cat scratch fever
    • gingivitis
    • mouth sores
    • measles
    • tonsillitis
    • toxoplasmosis
    • tuberculosis
    • Sézary syndrome
    • shingles 

    Other Possible Diagnosis

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

A painless swelling behind my ear – Our Patient Stories

My experience with Your Doctors Online was terrific! I downloaded the app because of a swelling I felt behind my ear while combing my hair one day. It was round, painless, and hard. As I am a smoker, the first thought I had was of cancer.

I had used the Your Doctors Online app before for other issues, so I immediately started chatting with a doctor. Within 25 mins, my doctor was able to diagnose me with a sebaceous cyst. All I had to do was apply warm compresses on it and wait for a few days. 

Thankfully it went away on its own after two weeks and didn’t require drainage. This application saved my money as well as a trip to the doctor’s office!” – Shelby I.  

Chat with an online doctor

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.

You can know what is causing the lymph node swelling at the comfort of your home.

Swelling Lymph nodes behind the ear - posterior auricular

Source: Canva

At Your Doctors Online, we usually get patients with swollen lymph nodes. A brief history along with examination in the form of pictures can lead to a diagnosis. Here is another story shared by our patient: 

Ear Pain and swelling of posterior auricular lymph nodes – Our Patient Stories.

I had been experiencing mild pain along with slight hearing difficulty in my right ear. When I examined that area, I could feel a swelling behind my ear. It scared me, and I got an appointment for the coming week with my GP. 

While I was waiting, my symptoms were getting worse, so I decided to look for help online. I came across Your Doctors Online application, and I decided to give it a shot. 

Within 5 mins, I was able to chat with a benevolent doctor who explained that my posterior auricular lymph nodes were swollen, and the cause is likely an ear infection. 

She recommended over-the-counter medications that helped improve my symptoms while I waited for my GP appointment. This application gave me peace of mind that internet search is not able to provide.” – Michael C.


How to Check Your Lymph Nodes Behind the Ear

posterior auricular

Image Courtesy of the NHS


  • 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 collar bone. 
  • 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 are examining can help relax the muscle. 
  • 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. 


Speak to a Doctor

Aisan man in a doctor's coat

Source: Canva

Swollen areas behind the ear can be caused by many different reasons. Don’t waste time worrying. Connect with one of our doctors right away. Our North American doctors are available 24 hours a day and can provide medical insights through chat, photo, and video options. Cure your worry from the comforts of home with Your Doctors Online.

Disclaimer: This article provides general information and is not intended to diagnose, treat or cure any disease or medical condition. If you require specific advice, please consult one of our medical professionals through the app. However, in case of an emergency, please call 911.

About Richard Honaker M.D.

Dr. Richard Honaker has over 40 years of experience as a primary care physician specializing in several different areas of medicine. He is able to provide expert case review and analysis for insurance and workers compensation cases as well as providing online medical consultations as the Chief Medical Advisor for Your Doctors Online.

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