Lumps behind the ear may be caused by many things. They are rarely serious, but you may need to see a doctor to determine the origin. Treatment will depend on the cause and may include antibiotics or topical creams.

In most cases, lumps or nodules behind the ears are harmless. They may signal a need for medication, as in the case of an infection, but they are rarely a sign of a dangerous or life threatening problem.

Lumps can vary in size but are generally small- to medium-sized bumps, which may occur anywhere on the back of the ear and can be either hard or soft. In some cases, these lumps might be painful or tender, while other bumps cause little to no pain.

Several conditions may lead to knots, lumps, bumps, or nodules behind your ears. In order of likelihood, these conditions are:



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Strep throat, pharyngeal swelling with exudates. James Heilman, MD, CC BY-SA 3.0

Many bacterial and viral infections can cause swelling in and around your neck and face. Two such infections are strep throat and infectious mononucleosis (caused by the Epstein-Barr virus). Other conditions can also cause swelling in and around the neck and face. They include:


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Mastoiditis. B. Welleschik, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

If you develop an ear infection and don’t get treatment, you may develop a more serious infection of the ear called mastoiditis.

This infection develops in the bony protrusion behind the ear, which is called the mastoid. It may cause pus-filled cysts to develop. In turn, you may feel those as lumps or knots behind your ear.


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Abscess in earlobe. 3623/Shutterstock

An abscess develops when tissue or cells in an area of the body become infected. Your body responds to the infection by trying to kill off the invading bacteria or virus. To fight the bacteria, your body sends white blood cells to the infected areas.

These white blood cells begin gathering in the damaged location, and as a result, pus begins to develop. Pus is a thick, fluid-like product that develops from dead white bloods cells, tissue, bacteria, and other invading substances. Abscesses are often painful and warm to the touch.

Otitis media

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Otitis externa is also called swimmer’s ear. Designua/Shutterstock

Otitis media is another term for an ear infection. These can be bacterial or viral. When an infection occurs, it can cause painful fluid buildup and swelling. These symptoms may result in visible swelling behind the ear. Antibiotics may be used to ease the symptoms and end the infection.

Lymphadenopathy (secondary to ear or throat infections)

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Lymphadenopathy in the neck.Coronation Dental Specialty Group, via Wikimedia Commons

Lymphadenopathy begins in your lymph nodes. Lymph nodes are tiny, organ-like structures that are present throughout your body. This includes:

  • under your arms
  • in your neck
  • in your pelvis
  • behind your ears

From time to time, your lymph nodes will swell. In many cases, the swelling is the result of an infection. As the number of infection-fighting cells grows, they will begin to build up in the lymph nodes. Swollen lymph nodes are commonly caused by infection, inflammation, or cancer.

Sebaceous cysts

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Sebaceous cyst behind the ear. Photo By BSIP/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Sebaceous cysts are noncancerous bumps that arise beneath the skin. They most commonly develop on the head, neck, and torso.

This type of cyst develops around the sebaceous gland, which is responsible for producing oil that lubricates your skin and hair. Most sebaceous cysts cause little to no pain. They may be uncomfortable or irritating because of where they develop on your body.

Acne vulgaris

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Acne on the face and ear Yashkin Ilya/Shutterstock

Acne is a common skin condition that occurs when hair follicles in the skin become clogged. Dead skin cells and oil can clog the follicles, and then pimples and bumps may develop. In certain cases, these bumps will grow to be large, solid, and sometimes painful.


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Lipoma in the neck. Casa nayafana/Shutterstock

A lipoma is a fatty lump that develops between the layers of your skin. A lipoma can develop anywhere on your body, and it’s almost always harmless.

Lipomas are not always detectable from the skin’s surface, but as they grow larger, it’s more likely that you’ll be able to feel them with your hand.

Identifying lumps behind the ears

If you have a history of acne, it may be easy for you to diagnose a lump or bump behind your ear as a pimple. But for other people, figuring out what’s causing the raised area may be trickier.

How to self-check

Your hand is your best tool for detecting lumps or bumps behind your ears. Below are a few questions you can ask yourself:

  • Does the lump feel soft and pliable? If so, it’s probably a lipoma.
  • Is the spot tender and painful, especially when touched? Then it could be a pimple or an abscess.
  • In addition to the bump, are you experiencing other symptoms? Other symptoms could include fever or chills. If so, the lump could be another sign of an infection.

When to see a doctor

If the lump is problematic, causing you pain or discomfort, or associated with other symptoms, make an appointment with your doctor. You can connect to a physician in your area using the Healthline FindCare tool.

A quick physical inspection of the area and a general checkup can usually help your doctor figure out exactly what is happening behind your ear.

Based on what your doctor finds, they may suggest leaving the lump to go away on its own, or any number of treatments, from medication to surgery.

Lumps behind the ear usually aren’t harmful. Together with your doctor, you can find the best way to get rid of the lump and prevent future problems.

Treatment options

Treatment for lumps behind the ear can vary depending on the specific cause.

Antibiotics may be used to treat abscesses or certain types of infections, including mastoiditis or otitis media.

Topical treatments can also be used for lumps caused by acne. This could include medications like benzoyl peroxide, retinoids, or antibiotics, all of which can be applied topically.

In some cases, surgical procedures may be recommended to drain or remove sebaceous cysts, abscesses, or lipomas.

Frequently asked questions

Can a lump behind the ear be cancer?

Although uncommon, lumps behind the ear could be caused by a benign (noncancerous) or malignant (cancerous) tumor.

Your doctor can perform a biopsy to determine whether a lump is cancerous. This procedure involves collecting a small tissue sample from the area and examining it in a lab.

How do I get rid of a swollen lymph node behind my ear?

Swollen lymph nodes usually go away on their own over time once the infection clears up.

Some ways to help alleviate symptoms caused by swollen lymph nodes include:

How long does it take swollen lymph nodes to go away?

In most cases, swollen lymph nodes should resolve within 2 weeks.

Talk with a doctor if:

  • the swelling does not go down after 2 weeks
  • your lymph nodes feel hard when you press them
  • you‘re experiencing night sweats or a high fever for more than 3 to 4 days