What Does a Lump Behind Your Ear Mean?

A swollen lump behind the ear can stem from various causes, ranging from benign to more serious conditions. Here are some common possibilities:
1. Normal or Benign (non-cancerous) Lumps:
  • Sebaceous Cyst: These are fluid-filled pockets that form when the sebaceous glands become blocked.1
These are tiny glands found in your hair follicle. They secrete sebum, an oily substance which protects the skin from drying out.

They are essentially like a large pimple or abscess.
  • Lipoma: Lipomas are benign growths consisting of fat cells and are typically painless.2
They feel soft and squishy and their cause is unknown, although they may develop because of an inherited gene.
  • Dermoid Cyst: These are sack-like pockets present at birth due to a developmental abnormality. They can occur anywhere on the body, including behind the ear.
They may consist of hair, teeth, skin, sebum, sweat glands and even nails.
2. Tooth Infection:
An infected or impacted tooth, particularly in the back of the mouth, can cause an enlarged lymph node behind the ear due to the spread of infection. This can feel like quite a hard and painful lump.
3. Mastoiditis:
Mastoiditis is a bacterial infection of the bony air cells in the mastoid bone behind the ear. It can cause a painful lump, accompanied by symptoms such as fever and ear discharge.

It is more rarely seen these days thanks to the use of antibiotics to treat ear infections. However, if left untreated, it can lead to permanent hearing loss or meningitis.
4. Lymphoma:
While rare, a lump behind the ear can be a symptom of certain types of cancer or lymphoma. However, it's important to note that if the lump is cancerous, other symptoms usually accompany the lump. These include, unexplained weight loss, night sweats, and persistent fatigue.

Where Can the Lump be Located?

Lumps behind the ear can be found anywhere between the earlobe and the temporal bone, where glasses sit. The location of the lump can provide valuable clues about its possible cause. For example, sebaceous cysts commonly occur behind the earlobe.

Are Swollen Lymph Nodes Behind the Ear Dangerous?

While swollen lymph nodes can be a sign of an underlying issue, not all cases are dangerous. Infections, such as a common cold, can cause temporary swelling that resolves on its own.

However, if the swelling persists, worsens, or is accompanied by other concerning symptoms, medical attention should be sought to determine the underlying cause.3

How Do You Treat a Lump Behind the Ear?

Treatment for a lump behind the ear depends on its cause. Here are some common approaches:3
1. Observation:
If the lump is determined to be benign and causes no discomfort or functional limitations, it may simply be observed over time.
2. Medications:
Antibiotics may be prescribed to treat infections, including tooth infections and mastoiditis.
3. Surgical Intervention:
In cases where the lump is causing pain, infection, or cosmetic concerns, surgical removal may be recommended. This is often the case for sebaceous cysts, lipomas, and dermoid cysts.
4. Cancer Treatment:
If a lump behind the ear is cancerous or indicative of lymphoma, treatment will depend on the specific diagnosis. It may involve surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or a combination of these approaches.


Discovering a lump behind your ear can evoke anxiety and worry. While some lumps are harmless and resolve on their own, others may require medical attention and intervention.

It is crucial to consult with a healthcare provider for an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment plan. Remember, early detection and timely treatment provides an opportunity for the best outcome.


  1. Sebaceous Glands. Retrieved from  https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/body/24538-sebaceous-glands, on 11 May 2023.
  2. Lipoma. Retrieved from https://www.cancerresearchuk.org/about-cancer/other-conditions/lipoma, on 11 May 2023.
  3. Freedberg, et al. (2003). Fitzpatrick's Dermatology in General Medicine. (6th ed.). McGraw-Hill. ISBN 0-07-138076-0.
The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only. You should not use the information as a substitute for, nor should it replace, professional medical advice. If you have any questions about your health, you should always consult with a physician or other health-care professional.