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, meaning they’re not cancerous. Skin lumps are generally not dangerous, and usually don’t interfere with your everyday life. Talk to your healthcare provider or dermatologist if you’re worried about any abnormal growths on your skin.
Skin lumps can be caused by a number of health conditions that range in severity. Common types and causes of skin lumps include:
- pockets of infection, such as abscesses and boils
- cancerous growths
- allergic reactions, including hives
- swollen lymph nodes
- childhood illnesses, like chicken pox
The most common cause of skin lumps is trauma or injury. This type of lump is sometimes called a goose egg. It occurs when you hit your head or another part of your body. Your skin will begin to swell, causing a lump that may also be bruised.
Skin lumps caused by injury usually swell suddenly, within a day or two of the traumatic event.
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 aren’t 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. The glands under your arms and in your neck may temporarily become hard and lumpy if you have a cold or infection. Your lymph nodes will return to normal size as your illness runs its course. Should they remain swollen or enlarged you should consult your healthcare provider.
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.
Your doctor will ask you a series of questions to help diagnose the cause of your skin lump, such as:
- Who first discovered the lump? (sometimes a loved one is the one that mentions a lump or skin finding)
- 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? (such as itchiness, fever, drainage, etc.)
The color and shape of the lump can be an important part of diagnosing the problem. A mole that changes color, grows in size to larger than the size of a pencil eraser, 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. A lump could be cancerous if it:
- doesn’t go away
- grows in size
Discuss any unusual skin lumps with your healthcare provider. You may need a skin biopsy if your lump appears suddenly and 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.
Discomfort or pain from lymph node swelling, enlarged salivary glands, or a skin rash caused by a viral illness can be managed. You should try ice packs, baking soda baths, and fever-reducing medication.
Skin lumps caused by injury usually fade on their own as the swelling goes down. Applying an ice pack and elevating the area can reduce inflammation and ease pain.
You will need antibiotic medications to help the lumps heal if your skin lump is caused by an infection or abscess.
Your healthcare provider may prescribe topical medications 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. Corticosteroidsare 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:
- loss of skin color
- 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 a more invasive medical treatment. Skin lumps that may warrant drainage or surgical removal include:
- cancerous tumors or moles
Most skin lumps aren’t serious. Usually, treatment is only necessary if the lump is bothering you.
You should go to a doctor any time you’re concerned about a growth on your skin. Your doctor can evaluate the lump and make sure it’s not a symptom of a serious underlying condition.