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Hard lump behind the ear: 6 possible causes and what to do

In most cases, a hard lump behind the ear isn't painful, itchy, or uncomfortable and, so, it’s generally not a sign of something dangerous at all, just a sign that can appear with simple situations such as acne or a benign cyst.

However, a  lump can also be due to infections in the area, requiring more attention and appropriate treatment. So, if the lump causes pain, takes a long time to disappear, it’s very irregular in shape or if it increases in size, it’s very important to see a dermatologist or general practitioner to identify the cause and start treatment.

Hard lump behind the ear: 6 possible causes and what to do

As indicated, a hard lump behind the ear can have mane possible causes:

1. Infection

Lumps behind the ear can be caused by infections in the throat or neck, such as pharyngitis, a cold, the flu, mononucleosis, otitis, conjunctivitis, herpes, cavities, gingivitis, or the measles. This happens due to the swollen lymph nodes in the area, which increase in size as the body fights the infection.

When this happens, it’s important not to touch the swollen area so as to help with recovery, as the nodes slowly return to their original size as soon as the underlying infection has been treated.

2. Acne

Acne occurs when the pores of the skin become blocked because of the overproduction of sebum by the sebaceous glands, which are located at the base of the hair follicle. The sebum produced by these glands mix with dead skin cells and then this mixture forms a pimple that can swell and become painful.

In rarer cases, acne can also affect the skin behind the ear,causing a lump that can disappear on its own. 

3. Sebaceous cyst

The sebaceous cyst is a type of lump that forms under the skin and is made up of a substance called sebum, which can appear in any area of the body. It’s generally soft to the touch, can move when touched or pressed, and usually doesn't hurt unless it’s swollen, sensitive, and reddish, becoming painful. A dermatologist may recommend minor surgery to remove the cyst. 

A round, soft lump on the skin can also be a lipoma, a type of benign tumor made up of fat cells, which must also be removed through surgery or liposuction.

4. Mastoiditis

Mastoiditis is an infection in the bone located behind the ear and that can occur after an ear infection, especially if it wasn't treated correctly.

This condition is more common in children under the age of 2, but it can occur at any age, and have other symptoms such as headaches, decreased hearing ability,and fluid coming out of the ear.

5. Lipoma

Lipoma is a type of lump that doesn't cause pain or other symptoms. It is an overgrowth of fat cells which can appear anywhere on the body and grows slowly. 

What makes lipoma different to a sebaceous cyst is its constitution. A lipoma is made up of fat cells and the sebaceous cyst is made up of sebum; however, the treatment is always the same: surgery to remove the fibrous capsule.

6. Swollen lymph nodes

Lymph nodes, also known as lymph glands, are spread throughout the body, and when they become enlarged, this usually mean an infection or inflammation of the area in which they appear. they may also become swollen due to autoimmune diseases, the use of drugs, or even cancerof the head and neck, or lymphoma, for example. 

Lumps tend to have benign and temporary causes, measuring a few millimeters in diameter and disappearing in a period of about 3 to 30 days. However, if they continue to grow, last longer than 30 days, or if you have other symptoms such as weight loss and fever, it’s important to go to the doctor for the appropriate treatment.

When to seek medical assistance

It is recommended to go to the doctor if the lump appears suddenly, doesn't move when touched, lasts for a long time, or presents other signs and symptoms such as:

  • Pain and redness;
  • Increase in size;
  • Releases pus or another liquid;
  • Difficulty moving the head or neck;
  • Difficulty swallowing.

In these cases, the doctor can examine the lump based on its appearance and reaction to touch, as well as assess other symptoms such as fever and chills, which may indicate an infection. If the lump is painful, it may be a sign of an abscess or pimple.

The treatment depends a lot on the origin of the lump, which can disappear without any treatment or may need antibiotics or even surgery.

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