Enlarged lymph nodes behind the ear: causes and treatment

Woman expressing throat and ear pain

Many people may become worried when they notice swollen lymph nodes behind their ear. These enlarged nodes can indicate various conditions, ranging from common infections to more serious issues like cancer. In this article, we will explore the causes, symptoms, and treatment options for swollen lymph nodes behind the ear.

What are lymph nodes?

Lymph nodes, also known as lymph glands, are small structures shaped like beans that are present throughout the lymphatic system. This system plays a critical role in transporting lymph, which is an essential bodily fluid. Lymph nodes act as filters, eliminating foreign substances, bacteria, and abnormal cells from the lymph, thus contributing to overall health.

Preauricular lymph nodes

 

Preauricular lymph nodes are located in front of the ear, near the area where the ear joins the face. Similar to postauricular lymph nodes, they play a role in filtering lymph fluid and responding to infections or inflammation in the head, neck, or nearby areas. Swelling of preauricular lymph nodes can also occur in response to infections or inflammation in the scalp, ears, eyes, sinuses, or other nearby structures.

Postauricular lymph nodes

 

Postauricular lymph nodes are located behind the ear, in the area where the ear joins the skull. They are part of the lymphatic system and help filter lymph fluid, trapping and destroying pathogens such as bacteria and viruses. Swelling of postauricular lymph nodes can occur in response to infections or inflammation in the scalp, ears, or nearby areas.

Treatment for swollen lymph nodes behind the ear

Swollen glands themselves are not considered a disease but rather a symptom of an underlying condition. Therefore, treatment focuses on addressing the root cause. The approach to treatment depends on the nature of the underlying condition:

  • Infections: If the inflammation is due to an infection, such as a throat infection, treatment typically involves antibiotics.
  • Autoimmune diseases or cancer: In more serious cases, such as autoimmune diseases or cancer, treatment will be specific to the disease and may require specialized medical care.

When to consult a doctor

Doctor with stethoscope

It is important to consult a doctor if:

  • The lymph nodes are larger than five centimetres.
  • The nodes have been swollen for more than three weeks.
  • The swelling is unexpected, and the lymph node feels hard to the touch, with or without pain.
  • The skin in the area affected by the swelling is red, tight, or warm.
  • Other symptoms occur, such as fever, night sweats, unexplained weight loss, or breathing difficulties.

Why do lymph nodes behind the ear be swollen? Causes

Lymph nodes play a crucial role in the immune system. When they become enlarged, it is often in response to an infection elsewhere in the body. Swelling of the lymph nodes behind the ear can be triggered by various factors, including:

  1. Tonsil infections and mouth sores: Conditions like tonsillitis, mouth ulcers, or gum problems that require an immune response to clear bacteria may lead to swollen lymph nodes in the ear and neck.
  2. Respiratory tract infections: Bacterial, viral, or fungal infections in the ear, throat, or eyes can lead to lymph node swelling. These infections stimulate an immune response, causing the lymph nodes to enlarge. Allergic reactions can also induce this response.
  3. Infectious mononucleosis: This viral disease, which persists for an extended period, can result in swollen lymph nodes behind the ear as part of the immune response.
  4. Neck injuries: Trauma or injuries to the neck can lead to swollen lymph nodes in this area.
  5. Wisdom teeth: Swollen lymph nodes behind the ear can sometimes be associated with wisdom teeth issues, especially if there is an infection or inflammation in the mouth and jaw area.

 

1. Infected ear piercing

An ear piercing can potentially lead to swollen lymph nodes, although this is not a common occurrence. When a piercing becomes infected, it may trigger a localized immune response, causing the nearby lymph nodes to become swollen and tender. Swollen lymph nodes are a sign that the body is trying to combat the infection associated with the piercing. While this is generally not a dangerous condition, it is essential to address the infection promptly to prevent further complications. Taking good care of the piercing, keeping it clean, and following proper aftercare instructions can help reduce the risk of infection and, subsequently, swollen lymph nodes. If you notice persistent or severe symptoms, it's advisable to consult a healthcare professional for appropriate treatment and guidance.

2. Ear infection and ear pain

Woman expressing ear pain

An ear infection can cause the glands to swell, often accompanied by ear pain and fever.

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3. Otitis

Young woman expressing ear pain

Specific ear inflammation, which can be of bacterial or viral origin, can cause raised lymph nodes behind the ear and in the neck.

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Less frequent causes

Fungal infections and hair loss

Fungal infections on the scalp that cause itching or hair loss may contribute to swollen lymph nodes behind the ear.

Autoimmune diseases

When the immune system is weakened due to an autoimmune disease, lymph nodes may become swollen.

Cancer

In rare cases, swollen glands behind the ear may be an early sign of conditions such as lymph gland cancer or leukemia.

Rheumatoid arthritis

This autoimmune disease can also be associated with swollen lymph nodes.

COVID-19 vaccination

While it is common to experience swollen glands in the armpit after vaccination, swollen glands behind the ear have not been observed as a reaction to the vaccine.

Location of lymph nodes behind the ear

In the human body, there are approximately 600-700 lymph nodes located in various regions, including under the armpits, in the groin, in the abdomen, in the neck, and behind the ear. Specifically, those behind the ear are situated in the temporal bone and under the posterior auricular muscle. When these nodes become swollen, they can be palpated behind the pinna.

Types of swollen lymph nodes around the ear

4. Lymph node swollen by ear

Lymph nodes can become swollen near the ear due to various reasons, including infections or inflammatory conditions. When these lymph nodes enlarge, it's often a sign that the body is responding to an infection or inflammation in the surrounding area. The specific causes of such swelling can vary, and it's essential to identify the underlying issue for proper treatment.

5. Lymph nodes back of ear

Lymph nodes located behind the ear are called "postauricular" lymph nodes. They play a role in filtering lymphatic fluid and can also become swollen as a response to nearby infections or inflammation. The common causes may include ear infections or skin conditions affecting the scalp and neck area.

6. Swollen lymph node on ear

Swollen lymph nodes on or near the ear can result from infections such as ear infections or even skin conditions. These lymph nodes are part of the body's immune system and can become enlarged when the body is fighting off infection or reacting to an inflammation in the ear region.

7. Swollen lymph node below ear

Lymph nodes under the ear can become swollen due to infections in the throat or neck area.

In some cases, they may also be responsive to dental or oral health issues, such as tooth infections.

8. Swollen lymph node next to ear

Lymph nodes situated adjacent to the ear can swell for similar reasons as those behind the ear.

This includes responses to infections or inflammation in the surrounding areas.

Is preauricular lymph nodes dangerous?

Preauricular lymph nodes are not inherently dangerous. Lymph nodes are a crucial part of the body's immune system and serve to filter lymph fluid, trapping and destroying pathogens such as bacteria and viruses.

Preauricular lymph nodes are located just in front of the ears, near the area where the ear joins the face. They can become enlarged or swollen in response to infections or inflammation in the head, neck, or nearby areas, such as the scalp, ears, eyes, or sinuses.

While swollen preauricular lymph nodes can be a sign of infection, such as a cold, flu, or ear infection, they typically resolve on their own as the underlying cause is treated. In some cases, persistent or excessively swollen lymph nodes may require medical evaluation to determine the cause and appropriate treatment.

Symptoms of a swollen lymph node

Swollen lymph nodes behind the ear are typically noticeable as lumps under the skin, often becoming more evident when a person has a cold or is battling an infection. When lymph nodes swell, it's essential to pay attention to specific symptoms, including:

  1. Size: The severity of the infection can cause the lymph nodes to swell, and they may reach a size of up to two centimetres.
  2. Duration: If the swelling persists for more than three weeks without signs of infection, consulting a doctor is recommended.
  3. Pain on palpation: Swollen lymph nodes may be tender or painful to the touch, with the level of pain varying from mild to moderate.
  4. Redness: In some cases, the skin in the affected area may become red and warm, indicating the body's inflammatory response.

In addition, individuals with swollen lymph nodes behind the ear may experience symptoms such as:

  • Oral symptoms: Swelling behind the ear may be associated with localized symptoms in the oral area, such as cough, sore throat, pain in the jaw, or teeth.
  • Fever: Depending on the underlying cause, swollen lymph nodes may be accompanied by fever, a common response of the body to infections.
  • Fatigue: Some individuals may experience fatigue and tiredness, especially when the immune system is fighting an infection.
  • Difficulty swallowing: In certain situations, swollen lymph nodes in the neck area can lead to difficulty swallowing.

If lymph nodes are accompanied by fever, night sweats, unexplained weight loss, or breathing difficulties, it is advisable to seek medical attention.

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When to worry about a swollen node

The extent of swelling of lymph nodes can vary based on the severity of the infection. In many cases, these nodes can swell to a size of about two centimetres. If the swelling persists for three weeks or more without obvious signs of infection, it is prudent to consult a doctor to determine the underlying cause.

Swollen lymph nodes in infants and children

A child indicating his ear with the finger

Swollen lymph nodes behind a child's ears are a common occurrence and typically harmless. This is often a natural response of a young child's immune system when exposed to various unknown pathogens during their early years. While swollen glands behind the ears are usually not a cause for immediate concern, it's essential to monitor the duration of the swelling and the presence of additional symptoms. If the swelling persists for two to three weeks, or if the child experiences symptoms like fever, loss of appetite, fatigue, or weight loss, consulting a paediatrician is recommended.

  • During the medical examination, the paediatrician will consider factors such as the child's age, the location and size of the affected nodes, and their characteristics (such as whether they are painful or mobile).
  • Reporting other clinical signs or symptoms, such as skin rashes, enlargement of organs like the liver or spleen, respiratory or dental issues, and skin problems, is essential.
  • The paediatrician will also investigate potential underlying causes of the swelling, which may include respiratory tract infections, recent vaccinations, medication usage, recent travel, injuries, or contact with animals. Accurate information collection aids in determining whether additional follow-up or specific treatment is necessary for the child.

Pimple on lymph node behind ear

Doctor touching a woman's ear

Finding a pimple on a lymph node behind the ear is a relatively common occurrence. Lymph nodes, part of the body's immune system, can sometimes become enlarged due to various reasons, including localized infections or skin issues. When a pimple appears near a lymph node, it may be related to a minor skin condition or an infected hair follicle. The pimple itself can be a result of clogged pores, excess oil, or bacterial growth. In most cases, these occurrences are not a cause for significant concern and can be treated with good hygiene practices and over-the-counter topical treatments. However, if the pimple or associated lymph node swelling persists, becomes painful, or is accompanied by other concerning symptoms, it's advisable to consult a healthcare professional for a proper evaluation and potential further treatment.

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Swollen lymph node behind left or right ear only

Swollen lymph nodes behind only one ear can occur for several reasons:

  1. Localized infection: If there is an infection in the area surrounding that ear, such as an ear infection or a scalp infection on that side, it may cause swelling of the lymph nodes specifically behind that ear.
  2. Inflammatory conditions: Inflammatory skin conditions like dermatitis or eczema may affect one side of the head more than the other, leading to swelling of the lymph nodes on that side.
  3. Trauma: Trauma or injury to the head or neck on one side can cause localized inflammation and swelling of the lymph nodes in that area.
  4. Unilateral inflammation: In some cases, inflammation or irritation may affect only one side of the head or neck, leading to swelling of the lymph nodes on that side.
  5. Underlying medical conditions: Certain medical conditions or diseases may affect one side of the body more than the other, leading to asymmetrical symptoms such as swollen lymph nodes.

It's important to consult a healthcare professional for proper evaluation if you notice swollen lymph nodes behind only one ear. They can assess your symptoms, perform any necessary tests or examinations, and determine the underlying cause of the swelling.

FAQs about swollen lymph nodes behind the ear

Can ear infection affect lymph nodes?

Yes, ear infections can lead to swollen lymph nodes in the neck or behind the ear. The body's immune response to the infection can cause nearby lymph nodes to become enlarged.

Do you have lymph nodes in front of your ear?

Lymph nodes in front of the ear are called "preauricular" lymph nodes. They are responsible for draining lymph fluid from the eyes, cheeks, and scalp near the temples.

Can the nodes be surgically removed?

Nodes behind the ear are not typically removed independently. These nodes are part of the immune system, and their swelling represents the body's natural response to infection or inflammation. Instead of removing the nodes, the focus of treatment is on addressing the underlying cause. Therefore, it is crucial to treat the infection or condition leading to swollen glands.

How long does a swollen lymph node last?

Normally, swollen glands behind the ear should subside within three weeks, provided they are related to a previously diagnosed infection or inflammation. If the swelling persists beyond this period or is not associated with a known infection, it is advisable to seek medical attention to investigate potential underlying causes.

What are the common causes of lumps behind ear?

Lumps behind the ear can have various origins. The most frequent causes include acne, skin cysts, lipomas, and swollen lymph nodes. Each of these lumps may necessitate different treatment approaches, making it crucial to consult a healthcare professional if the lump is painful, grows in size, or displays other concerning symptoms.

Where are the lymph nodes situated behind the ear?

The lymph nodes are positioned behind the ear, near the temporal bone and under the posterior auricular muscle. When they swell, they can be felt behind the pinna with the fingers.

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