Lumps are a natural response of the body that appear when the immune system is fighting some type of infection or inflammation. They usually appear near the region where the infection is occurring and tend to be tender.
Usually, neck lumps are lymph nodes that become swollen due to simple infections, such as colds, flu, or throat aches.
However lumps on the neck can also be a sign of more serious problems like cancer, AIDS, tuberculosis, or a tumor, especially if they are completely painless and are accompanied by other symptoms such as muscle pain, night sweats or weight loss.
Here are 6 common causes for neck lumps:
1. Colds and flu
These are the main causes for lumps on the neck. Lymph nodes will often become swollen when the body is fighting viral infections, resulting in lumps in the neck (although they can appear elsewhere in the body). Read more about what can cause swollen lymph nodes.
What to do: These lumps will usually disappear once the cold or flu has resolved. Check out some home remedies for treating a cold or flu naturally.
2. Throat inflammation
Although throat inflammation can happen when you have a flu or respiratory virus, you may also experience swelling with bacterial infections like as tonsillitis or strep throat. In these cases, the lymph nodes in the neck can become reactive and lumps can appear in the region.
In addition to lumps, which usually appear on the sides of the neck, it's also possible to have other symptoms such as a cough, headache, pain with swallowing, fever, earache, and bad breath.
What to do: You are advised to see your doctor for assessment to assess whether you need an antibiotic for treatment. Learn more about how you can treat a sore throat.
3. Ear infection
Ear infections can present similarly to throat inflammations and can also activate the immune system. Many times, infections can cause lumps around the ear, particularly in the area behind the ears. These lumps are also a sign of reactive lymph nodes trying to fight off infection.
Ear infections are associated with other symptoms such as earache, difficulty hearing, itchiness, or pus.
What to do: go to the doctor so he can assess the type of infection and start you on antibiotics, if necessary. Generally, lumps disappear when the infection is treated.
4. Wounds or bites on the skin
It is easy for bacteria to enter the body and spread through wounds or bites. Once the body detects a foreign invader, the immune system activates to try to attack it. In serious cases, in which there is a large number of micro-organisms, the immune system works excessively and this can lead to lumps appearing near the infected area.
What to do: Monitor your wound or bite for signs of infection like redness, swelling or intense pain. If any of these emerge, you should see your doctor for treatment.
5. Autoimmune diseases
Autoimmune diseases, such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and HIV/AIDS will generally affect and weaken the immune system by attacking the body’s defense cells. Damaged defense cells can accumulate in the lymphatic glands causing inflammation and lumps.
Lumps related to autoimmune disease normally appear throughout the body. It's also common to have other symptoms such as muscle pain, nausea, vomiting, and night sweats.
What to do: If you think you have an autoimmune disease you should go to the doctor to do general tests and start adequate treatment, if necessary.
Various types of cancer demand a lot of work from the immune system, and therefore it's not uncommon for lumps to appear in several locations of the body. The types of cancer that more often cause lumps are lymphomas and leukemia.
What to do: When all other causes have been excluded, but the lumps are still present, you may need to do some blood tests, to identify possible tumor markers. Other exams that will also help reach a diagnosis include CT scans and MRIs.
As lumps are the body's response to the presence of invading micro-organisms and/or inflammation, treatment is aimed at eliminating these factors. For that reason, you may need to take analgesics, anti-inflammatory medication, or even antibiotics, depending on what's causing the lumps to appear.
Even though it's not frequent, a lump on the neck can be a sign of lymphoma, a type of tumor that affects the immune system. If you suspect of cancer you should consult with an oncologist.
When to visit the doctor
As a lump on the neck can be a sign of a serious problem, it is recommended that you see you doctor if the lump appears for no apparent reason, increases in size, is hard, has an irregular shape, or comes with other symptoms such as persistent fever, night sweats or weight loss without cause.