A lump is a nodular mass which may appear anywhere on the body. Lumps can either be small and could be felt by touch only, or large enough to be visible to the naked eye as well. During a bout of cold or sore throat, at times, such lumps may appear on your neck or behind your ears. You may find them hard or soft to touch. These lumps can be caused by a wide range of conditions varying from bacterial and viral infections to cysts and goitre. Instances of such lumps or nodules turning out to be dangerous or life-threatening are rare.  

There are other factors that may also lead to the development of lumps. Give a read to understand the obvious reasons that may cause lumps behind ears or on the neck. And also know what all things you should do immediately, and when you must make a visit to the doctor. 

What are the conditions responsible for lumps on the neck or behind the ears? 

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Most of the lumps developing on either side of the neck, under the jaw or behind the ears are swollen glands which appear as a result of certain infections. Usually, these lumps tend to be harmless and resolve spontaneously without any treatment. These lumps can be painless or painful depending upon the cause. 

Here are three prime factors that usually leads to the development of lumps:

1. Enlarged lymph nodes: Lymph nodes are a part of our immune system and can swell into a lump in cases of exposure to foreign invading organisms and various infections.

2. Cancerous growth:  A painless lump is more likely to be a harmful growth. Lumps on the neck or at the back of the ears may be a sign of nasopharyngeal cancer which has spread to the lymph nodes. 

3. Lipoma:  These are non-cancerous, harmless lumps of fat that can occur under the skin anywhere in the body. Mostly, these are painless, non-tender and soft to touch.

Besides the above ones, the other factors that may cause a unanimous lump on your neck or ear are:

  • Acne can cause clogging of hair follicles in the skin leading to the formation of lumps.  
  • Sebaceous cyst - When sebaceous glands (small glands present in the skin) gets blocked due to any reason, a sebaceous cyst is formed which appears like a lump. 
  • Thyroid gland enlargement caused by goitre may also be visible as a lump in the neck.

Things to do ASAP

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Although most of these lumps are harmless, we need to be absolutely sure that we are not dealing with a dangerous or life-threatening disease. The following steps are required to ensure safety:

a)  Get the lump examined for any cancerous growth: A swelling in the lymph nodes usually resolves with treatment. If the lump exists for more than 2 weeks or has other associated symptoms, take an appointment with your doctor and get yourself checked and rule out the existence of life-threatening conditions.

b)  Get your lymphatic system checked: Swelling in the lymph nodes of the neck or behind the ears may also be the cause of a visible lump. These enlarged lymph nodes may be present under the arms and are mostly caused by an infection. An evaluation by the doctor will help confirm the underlying cause and facilitate a decision on appropriate treatment.

c) Get yourself checked for any visible or hidden infections: A number of bacterial and viral infections such as chickenpox, measles, tonsillitis (inflammation of the tonsils) and pharyngitis (inflammation of the pharynx) can cause swelling and subsequent lumps in the neck and behind the ears. An examination to rule out infection is hence required.

d) Check if a sebaceous cyst is the cause of the lump: Usually, a sebaceous cyst is not painful, although it may cause minor irritation. The doctor can help you confirm its presence through visual examination and sometimes some other tests may be required. 

There are multiple infections and conditions that can lead to a lump in the neck and/or behind the ears. As these conditions vary from totally harmless to life-threatening, self-diagnosis should be avoided. For accurate assessment and choosing the correct line of action in such cases, you can speak with a Dermatologist online.

When to consult a doctor? 

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If the lump fulfills the following criteria, a visit to the doctor for further evaluation may be required:

  • The lump has come up suddenly
  • You are noticing some changes in an already existing lump or it seems to be growing in size
  • The lump is red, painful, tender or consists of some discharge
  • There are some generalized symptoms associated with the lump

In most cases, your health specialist will be able to establish a diagnosis through examination and by asking a few questions based on the medical history and duration of the lump. Rarely, a sample of the tissue is required for further analysis and testing.

If you have any other query related to lumps that have developed anywhere around your body, then you can consult an online Dermatologist to resolve your concerns.

About the Author

Dr. Aalok Makker

Dr. Aalok Makker is an Ayurveda Specialist. He holds an extensive experience of more than 15 years in Ayurveda and Medical Writing. He is an ardent writer having expertise in writing articles and blogs for various consumer health platforms.

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