What is an ear lump?
An ear lump is a protuberance or localized area of swelling that can occur anywhere on the ear. Other terms used to describe the various types of lumps include bump, nodule, tumor and cyst. Lumps can be caused by any number of conditions, including infections, inflammation, tumors or trauma. Depending on the cause, ear lumps may be single or multiple, soft or firm, painful or painless. They may grow rapidly or may not change in size.
Common sites for ear lumps include your ear canal, ear lobe, and behind your ear. Ear lumps can be caused by exostoses and osteomas, which are types of tumors that grow in the bones of the ear canal. An ear lump and tenderness in the bone behind your ear, along with pain and swelling, could indicate mastoiditis (infection of the mastoid bone).
Ear lumps due to local infectious causes may appear as boils or abscesses. Many types of infections cause the lymph nodes behind and below the ears near the jawbone to enlarge and feel like lumps. Traumatic causes of lumps range from bug bites to severe injuries that can produce localized collection of blood in the tissues (hematoma).
Both benign and malignant tumors of the skin, soft tissues, or organs can sometimes feel like lumps. In these cases, either a biopsy or surgical removal of the lump can determine whether cancer is present. Cysts, which are fluid-filled, sac-like structures that can form in various parts of the body, often feel like lumps. Some cysts may be present at birth, while others develop as a result of inflammation, tumors, or wear and tear over time. Sebaceous cysts are benign lumps filled with pus, dead skin cells, and excess oil.
Ear lumps caused by infection, inflammation or trauma are usually temporary and subside as the underlying condition resolves. Ear lumps that persist or continue to grow over time may signal more serious conditions, such as tumors. A lump near the ear that is associated with a head injury may signal bleeding in the brain or another emergency and may have life-threatening complications. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you have a lump near your ear as a result of head injury.
If you have any ear lump that is persistent or causes you concern, seek prompt medical care.
What other symptoms might occur with an ear lump?
An ear lump may be accompanied by other symptoms, depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition. Certain conditions that cause ear lumps may also involve other body systems.
Related localized symptoms that may occur along with an ear lump
An ear lump may be accompanied by other localized symptoms including:
- Pus or discharge
- Redness, warmth or swelling
- Tenderness or pain
Other symptoms that may occur along with an ear lump
An ear lump may accompany symptoms related to other body systems including:
- Fever and chills
- Joint stiffness and pain
- Runny nose
- Sore throat
- Unexplained weight loss
Serious symptoms that might indicate a life-threatening condition
In some cases, an ear lump may occur with other symptoms, which might indicate a serious or life-threatening condition that should be evaluated immediately in an emergency setting. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you, or someone you are with, have any of the following symptoms:
What causes an ear lump?
Ear lumps have many possible causes, including trauma, infections, inflammatory diseases, benign cysts and tumors, and cancers.
Traumatic causes of ear lumps
Minor and severe injuries can result in a localized swelling or ear lump including:
Hematoma (collection of blood in body tissues)
Sting or bite injuries
Infectious causes of ear lumps
An infection may produce one or more ear lumps, which may represent localized abscesses or enlarged lymph nodes. Infectious causes of lumps include:
Herpes virus infections
Mumps (a viral infection of the salivary glands in the neck)
Upper respiratory virus infection, including the common cold
Tumors that can cause ear lumps
Both benign and malignant tumors can cause lumps including:
Fibroma (a benign tumor composed of fibrous or connective tissue)
Lipoma (a benign fatty growth)
Lymphoma (cancer of the lymphatic system)
Melanoma (cancer arising in the melanocytes, or pigment-producing cells, in the skin or other parts of the body)
Nevi (moles of the skin)
Nonmelanoma skin cancers
Serious or life-threatening causes of ear lumps
In some cases, an ear lump may be a symptom of a serious or life-threatening condition that should be evaluated immediately in an emergency setting. These include:
- Head injury
Questions for diagnosing the cause of an ear lump
To diagnose your condition, your doctor or licensed health care practitioner will 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?
Ear lumps caused by cancer may have life-threatening consequences, which depend on the type and stage (extent) of the cancer. Left untreated, ear lumps due to abscesses or serious infections may lead to widespread infection in the body. Following your treatment plan for serious causes of lumps can help reduce your risk of complications including:
- Ear infection
- Hearing loss
- Spread of cancer
- Spread of infection