What Can Cause a Bump or Lump in or Around Your Ear?

Medically Reviewed By Cynthia Taylor Chavoustie, MPAS, PA-C

An ear lump or bump is a swollen or bulging area in or around the ear. It may be harmless or serious depending on the cause. Common causes of ear lumps include infections, tumors, and injuries. Some ear lumps may resolve on their own, while others may persist. If you have a lump or bump in or around your ear, it’s recommended that you contact a doctor for a diagnosis.

Read on to learn more about what may cause a lump or bump in or around the ear.

What is an ear lump or bump?

A person holding their hands over their ears
Sergio Mendoza Hochmann/Getty Images

An ear lump is a bump or localized area of swelling that can occur anywhere on the ear. Other terms used to describe the various types of lumps or bumps include nodule, tumor, and cyst.

Common sites for ear lumps or bumps include:

  • behind the ear
  • in the ear canal
  • on the earlobe

Causes of ear lumps include infections, tumors, or injuries. Depending on the cause, ear lumps may be soft or firm, painful or painless. There may be a single lump or multiple lumps, and they may grow over time or may not change in size.

What causes ear lumps or bumps?

There are many possible causes of ear lumps or bumps.

Infectious causes

An infection may produce one or more ear lumps.

Ear lumps due to local infectious causes may appear as boils or abscesses. Infections elsewhere in the body can cause the lymph nodes behind and below the ears near the jawbone to enlarge and feel like lumps.

Learn more about swollen lymph nodes.

An ear lump and tenderness behind your ear, along with pain and swelling, could indicate mastoiditis. Mastoiditis is an infection of the mastoid bone behind the ear and is often associated with Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source a middle ear infection.

A congenital condition called a preauricular pit can become infected Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source , causing a lump or bump. Preauricular pits present as a small hole in front of the ear, just above the ear canal opening, and develop when a sinus tract forms atypically.

Other infectious causes of ear lumps include:

Learn more about the difference between boils and cysts.

Benign cysts

Cysts are fluid-filled, sac-like structures that can form on various body parts and often feel like lumps. Some cysts develop from inflammation or tumors, while others may be present at birth.

Types of benign cysts include:

  • Sebaceous cysts: Also called epidermoid cysts, these are filled with pus, dead skin cells, and excess oil. Though they can form anywhere on the body, they are often seen Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source on the face and neck.
  • Dermoid cysts: These form when hair, skin cells, or other tissues not usually in the area are trapped under the skin. Dermoid cysts are noncancerous, small lumps under the skin that are smooth and not tender. They are also common Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source at birth.
  • Brachial cleft cysts: These are also common in children and may be seen at birth. They commonly form Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source along the neck but may also form under the ear along the jaw area or in the ear canal. These cysts form when tissues in the area do not develop as they should during embryonic development.

Learn more about earlobe cysts.

Injuries

Minor and severe injuries can result in localized swelling or an ear lump. Examples include:

  • head injury
  • sting or bite injuries
  • hematoma

A hematoma is a collection of blood in body tissues. Auricular hematomas, which form in the outer part of the ear, are common Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source with severe injuries caused by vehicle accidents or contact sports like boxing or wrestling.

Tumors

Benign and malignant tumors of the skin or soft tissues can feel like lumps or bumps.

Examples of benign tumors that may cause lumps include:

  • exostoses and osteomas, which are tumors that grow in the bones of the ear canal
  • fibromas, which are benign tumors composed of fibrous or connective tissue
  • lipomas, which are benign fatty growths
  • keloid tumors, which are firm or rubbery growths that can develop after injuries, including ear piercings
  • nevi, or skin moles

Malignant tumors that cause lumps or bumps may be associated with:

Learn more about melanoma on the ear.

What can ear bumps or lumps look like?

View the slideshow below to see pictures of some ear lumps or bumps.

An image showing a sebaceous cyst behind a person's ear

Bumps in or around the ear may be cysts, which are fluid-filled sacs.

BSIP / Contributor/Getty Images

An image showing a red bump behind a person's ear caused by mastoiditis

Mastoiditis, an infection of the bone behind the ear, may cause a lump along with pain and swelling.

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

An image showing a preauricular pit in front of a person's ear

Preauricular pits may cause lumps or bumps if they become infected.

Wikimedia Commons(https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Preauricular_sinus.jpg)

An image showing a squamous cell carcinoma lesion on a person's ear

Certain types of cancer may also present as bumps or lumps in and around the ear.

BSIP SA/Alamy Stock Photo

What other symptoms might occur with an ear lump or bump?

An ear lump may be accompanied by other symptoms around the affected area, including:

  • itching
  • pus or discharge
  • redness, warmth, or swelling
  • tenderness or pain

An ear lump may also occur alongside symptoms related to other body systems. These symptoms include:

How are ear lumps or bumps diagnosed?

Ear lumps or bumps are often found during a routine ear exam when your doctor examines the inner and outer parts of your ear and the area around it. During your exam, your doctor may also perform:

  • a hearing test, known as audiometry
  • a middle ear test, known as tympanometry
  • a CT scan or other imaging exam

To diagnose your condition, your doctor may ask you several questions related to your ear lump, including:

  • How long have you had the ear lump?
  • Are you experiencing any other symptoms along with the ear lump?
  • Is the ear lump getting bigger?
  • Is the ear lump painful or tender to the touch?

To rule out cancer, your doctor may also take a small tissue sample, called a biopsy, from the bump for further analysis.

How are ear lumps or bumps treated?

Treatments for ear lumps or bumps will vary depending on the cause. For example, if a bacterial infection is causing your symptoms, your doctor may recommend a course of antibiotics.

You may need surgery to remove factors like a tumor or cyst if the bump:

  • causes pain
  • interferes with your hearing
  • leads to frequent ear infections
  • causes structural damage

What are some potential complications of ear lumps or bumps?

Left untreated, ear lumps or bumps may cause complications such as:

  • hearing loss
  • spread of infection
  • spread of cancer

When should you see a doctor about ear lumps or bumps?

It’s recommended that you contact a doctor if you have an ear lump or bump that is persistent, growing, or accompanied by symptoms like pain or discharge.

A lump near the ear associated with a head injury may signal bleeding in the brain or another emergency and may have life threatening complications.

Seek immediate medical care or call 911 if you have a lump or bump near your ear due to a head injury.

Summary

A variety of factors, including infections, injuries, or tumors can cause ear lumps or bumps. If you have a lump or bump that’s causing you concern, contact your doctor. They can help you determine the cause and recommend the appropriate treatment.

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Medical Reviewer: Cynthia Taylor Chavoustie, MPAS, PA-C
Last Review Date: 2023 Nov 27
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