Hard, Small, Painful Lump behind ear: Symptoms, Diagnosis & Treatment

A lump behind the ear can at times be caused by a serious medical condition or be harmless. In most cases, such a lump will be hard and painful but can as well be painless and small. It is however almost guaranteed that it will be uncomfortable.

Some lumps disappear not long after their first appearance. Some will persist and in fact call for medical attention. The cause and severity usually determine the best course of treatment to be taken.

It is highly advisable to learn the cause of a lump behind the ear. This is especially true if the lump is hard, painful or increasingly gaining mass.

Causes of painful lump behind ear

Below are some common causes of a painful lump behind the ear:


Acne is the most common skin condition. It develops when hair follicles become clogged with sebum. Parts of the body that experience a lot of sweating are prone to acne. It is for this reason that a painful lump in the armpit is often caused by the same. However, blocked sweat pores are not responsible for the formation of acne. Acne is most painful when infected by bacteria to form cystic acne. Hormonal changes, overactive sebaceous glands and hereditary factors are common causes of acne.


An abscess is a lump that in the skin which forms as a sac filled with pus. Pus is always a sign of the presence of infectious bacteria. If you are experiencing a sore lump behind the ear, it is probably an abscess. Am abscess is a common cause of a painful lump in the breast. Large ones require treatment with antibiotics while small ones will go away on their own.

Swollen lymph nodes

This is also known as lymphadenopathy. It is caused by swelling of lymph nodes located behind ears. Infections and inflammations are the main causes of lymphadenopathy. Cancer is another common cause. Other than behind the ears, a painful lump under the chin may also appear.


A lump behind the ear on the bone, the mastoid bone in particular, is probably due to mastoiditis. This is an ear infection that worsens due to lack of treatment.

Otitis media

Ear infection caused by bacteria or viruses is likely to cause a painful lump behind the ear. Infections in the ear are common after episodes of viral diseases like colds. They can also occur after infections involving the respiratory system. Most cases are reported in children.

Painless lump behind ear common causes

If you are experiencing a lump behind the ear which causes no pain, it could be due to any of the following:


Sebaceous cysts develop after hair follicles, through which sebum is secreted becomes blocked with the sebum. Epidermal cysts are a bit more complicated. The topmost skin layer gradually sheds off. Sometimes, the skin cells supposed to be shed off move deeper into the skin, where they form a sac with pus, fluid or gas inside. The sac is surrounded by a keratin wall, which makes it hard to feel. Other than being painless, cysts will also form a hard lump behind the ear. Cysts are generally harmless but can be discomforting.


It is not known what exactly causes lipoma. Experts have reasons to associate this condition with genetic predisposition. A lump behind the ear due to lipoma occurs when fat collects between upper skin layers. The lump usually forms very slowly and feels soft or spongy to touch. If pushed, the lump will be movable. Large ones can grow up to 3 cm while smaller ones aren’t more than 1 cm in size. Lipoma is a harmless condition. The lumps will clear on their own. They can however be removed through a minor surgery.

Benign tumors

Benign is another word for harmless or not fatal. It is commonly used to describe tumors that aren’t cancerous. Tumors form when particular body cells behave out of the ordinary. Benign tumors are common causes of lumps in the body, including behind the ear. Unlike cancerous growths, they do not spread.

Cancerous tumors

Cancerous tumors are said to be malignant. The salivary gland is sometimes affected by malignancy to form some form of cancer. Cancerous tumors are characterized by continuous gain in mass, changes in color, irregular shape and spread to other body parts. Malignant tumors in the salivary gland can prompt breast cancer lump symptoms.

Other causes of lump behind ear

A soft lump on the ear lobe can develop after piercing. This will be encouraged by bacterial infections on the pierced ear lobe. It is also common for people diagnosed with HIV and measles to develop lumps on different body parts, including behind the ears.

Allergies are other common causes of lumps on the skin. A lump due to an allergic reaction is likely going to be itchy and swollen.

A painful lump behind the ear due to infection is best treated by a doctor. Common signs of infection include pus formation, fever and chills. Complications from ear infections can lead to loss of hearing ability and headaches.

Ear infection is known to cause meningitis. This is a serious condition that leads to death within a day after infection. Common symptoms include headaches, being sensitive to light and stiffness in the neck.

Diagnosis and treatment for lump behind ear

Diagnosis for a lump behind ear can be done at home by looking at the symptoms or comparing with online pictures. In a clinic, a doctor will perform physical examination or tests where necessary.


Topical creams and steroid-based medications are often used. Home remedies that soothe irritated skin and reduce inflammation are also popular choices. Acne should not be popped.


A mild abscess will clear without treatment. In a clinic, it can be drained or surgically removed. It can also be treated with antibiotics.

Swollen lymph nodes

Swollen lymph nodes can only be treated by addressing the cause of the swelling. Applying a warm and cold compress will reduce the pain associated with the swollen lump.


Antibiotics are mostly used to get rid of this infection. In severe cases, surgical procedure will be required to drain or remove the swollen lump behind the ear on bone.

Otitis media

Otitis media usually heals in 2 days. Draining helps speed up the recovery process.


Cysts are harmless and painless. They therefore rarely call for special treatment procedures but are frequently left to clear on their own. Surgical removal is a quicker removal alternative.


A soft lump due to lipoma is harmless and painless. It is best left to clear on its own. For cosmetic reasons, the lump can be surgically removed by a doctor.

Benign tumors

Benign tumors are not harmful. They however rarely go away on their own. The best treatment approach is to have them surgically removed.

Cancerous tumors

Cancerous tumors are the hardest to treat. They also are the most dangerous. For one, they can spread to other body parts. They will also be fatal if left untreated. Treatment requires procedures such as chemotherapy, radiation and surgical removal of the tumors.

How to treat lump behind ear at home

The best approach towards treating a lump behind the ear is to first examine it by touching. A hard lump behind the ear that is not causing pain is probably due to a sebaceous cyst. A sebaceous cyst is best left alone, unless it is causing discomfort.

If the lump is soft, rubbery and moves when touched, it is probably due to lipoma. Like cysts, the lump will go away on its own.

A swollen lump that feels tender and painful to touch is probably an abscess or acne. You can try a warm compress or home remedies such as aloe Vera. Warm compresses bring pus and clogged sebum nearer to the skin surface. This encourages self-draining. Home remedies mostly work by reducing inflammation and keeping from bacterial accumulation.

If a swollen bump behind the ear forms pus, causes fever and is painful to touch, it is probably due to an infection. You can try antibiotics. However, treatment at home for such lumps is advised against.

It is good to keep observing any changes detectable on the lump. This is very helpful in case of cancerous lumps. For example, malignant lumps have a tendency of changing size, symmetry and color. They also are mostly irregularly shaped. Such a lump should be addressed by a doctor with immediate effect.

Yellowish appearance accompanied by foul odor is a characteristic of a cyst. A cyst can also be white or green in color. At home, tea tree oil and warm compress are the best treatment approaches.

Olive oil is a common home remedy used at home for treating ear infections. The oil is mild enough to be applied in the ears. You can also try garlic oil. It is an antiseptic as well as an anti-inflammatory agent.

For swollen lymph nodes, repeat warm compress treatment about 3 times in a day. It will ease the pain, until the underlying cause has been addressed.

When to see a doctor for a lump behind ear

In and around the ear is a very sensitive part of the body. It is closely nearly located to the brain and central nervous system. For this reason, infections occurring in that area may soon find a way into the brain.

In the following situations, see your doctor for specialized treatment:

  • If the lump is hard, painless and feels fixed to its position
  • It is surrounded by other smaller lumps which feel firm and fixed
  • Rapidly and continuously gains mass
  • Changes shape, size or color
  • Is causing headaches
  • Is painful, itchy, red or tender
  • Has formed or is discharging pus
  • Has no apparent cause
  • Is accompanied by symptoms such as fever, hearing loss, fatigue and chills
  • Is causing the lymph nodes to swell
  • Prompts the formation of other lumps such as a hard lump on the testicle

Your doctor is always in the best position to provide the best direction in regards to how to treat a lump behind the ear. As we have seen, treatment for a painless lump is only necessary if it is showing signs of cancer. The rest can be left to heal on their own. For painful lumps, treatment with antibiotics, draining or surgical removal are best options.