Skin Lumps

Written by Erica Roth | Published on September 4, 2012
Medically Reviewed by Brenda B. Spriggs, MD, MPH, FACP

What Are Skin Lumps?

Skin lumps are any areas of abnormally raised skin. The lumps may be hard and rigid or soft and moveable. Swelling from injury is one common form of skin lump.

Most skin lumps are benign—in other words, not cancerous. Skin lumps are generally not dangerous, and usually do not interfere with your everyday life. Consult your doctor or dermatologist if you are worried about any abnormal areas on your skin.

Possible Causes of Skin Lumps

Skin lumps can be caused by a number of health conditions that range in severity. Common types and causes of skin lumps include:

Trauma

Perhaps the most common cause of skin lumps is trauma or injury. Referred to as a “goose egg,” this type of lump occurs when you hit your head or another part of your body. The tissues swell, causing a lump that may also be bruised. Injury-induced skin lumps usually swell suddenly, within a day or two of the traumatic event.

Cysts

A cyst is another typical cause of skin lumps. A cyst is an enclosed area of skin tissue that forms underneath the outermost layer of skin. Cysts are usually filled with fluid.

The contents of a cyst may remain under the skin or rupture out of the cyst. Cysts are most often soft and moveable, unlike hard warts or corns. Most cysts are not cancerous. Cysts are usually painless, unless they become infected.

Swollen Lymph Nodes

You may also encounter skin lumps where your lymph glands are located. Lymph glands contain white blood cells that help fight infection. If you have a cold or infection, the glands under your arms and in your neck may temporarily become hard and lumpy. As your illness runs its course, your lymph nodes will return to normal size.

Childhood Illness

Childhood illnesses, such as mumps and chicken pox, can also give your skin a lumpy appearance. Mumps is a viral infection that affects your salivary glands. Your swollen glands can give your cheeks a chipmunk-like appearance.

The herpes zoster virus causes chicken pox. During a bout of the chicken pox, your skin is marked with pink bumps that rupture and become crusty. Most children receive vaccinations to protect against these childhood diseases

When to Get Help from Your Doctor

Discuss any unusual skin lumps with your doctor. A biopsy may be warranted if your lump appears suddenly, without explanation. A biopsy is the removal of a small sample of your skin tissue. Your doctor can test the biopsy sample for cancerous cells.

Diagnosing the Cause of Your Skin Lump

Your doctor will ask you a series of questions to help diagnose the cause of your skin lump, such as:

  • When did you first discover the lump?
  • How many skin lumps do you have?
  • What are the color, shape, and texture of the lumps?
  • Does the lump hurt?
  • Are you experiencing other symptoms?

The color and shape of the lump can be an important part of diagnosing the problem. A mole that changes color or has an irregular border is a red flag. These characteristics are signs of possible skin cancer.

Basal cell carcinoma is another form of skin cancer that looks like an ordinary skin lump or pimple at first glance. If the lump bleeds, doesn’t go away, or grows in size, it could indicate cancer.

Treatment for Skin Lumps

Skin lumps caused by injury usually fade on their own as the swelling recedes. Applying an ice pack and elevating the area can reduce inflammation and ease pain. If your skin lump is caused by an infection or abscess, you will need antibiotic medications to help the lumps heal.

Viral illnesses that cause lymph node swelling, enlarged salivary glands or a skin rash require only supportive care. The viruses cannot be cured, but discomfort can be treated. Ice packs, baking soda baths, and fever-reducing medication can all help.

Your doctor may prescribe topical medicines to eliminate acne bumps, warts, and rashes. Topical skin ointments and creams may contain salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide. These ingredients help reduce local infection and bacteria found in cystic acne. The acid may also help decrease the amount of skin that has built up around a wart.

Corticosteroid injections are a possible treatment for skin lumps that become inflamed. Corticosteroids are powerful anti-inflammatory drugs. Cystic acne, generalized skin infections, and benign cysts are among the types of skin lumps that can be treated with corticosteroid injections. However, these injections can have side effects near the area of injection, including infection, pain, loss of skin color, or shrinking of soft tissue. For this reason and more, corticosteroid injections are generally used no more than a few times a year.

A skin lump that causes continual pain or is hazardous to your health may require more invasive medical treatment. Skin lumps that may warrant drainage or surgical removal include:

  • boils
  • corns
  • cysts
  • cancerous tumors or moles
  • abscesses
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