Small, Hard, Painful lump on Earlobe: Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment

The appearance of a hard or painful lump on the earlobe can be quite discomforting and in some cases embarrassing. Even so, these sorts of lumps are rarely dangerous.

Most lumps in the earlobe are caused by cysts. Cysts are sacs formed under the skin and filled with fluid, pus or gas. They are surrounded by a keratin wall, which makes them feel hard when touched. Cysts are usually painless.

There are other conditions and factors that can create lumps on the earlobes. It is always best to get a lump on the skin checked by a doctor. This is because lumps are common first signs of cancerous tumors.

Hard lump in earlobe due to cysts

There are two types of cysts that can cause a hard lump in the earlobe: epidermoid cyst or a sebaceous cyst.

  • Epidermoid cyst – it develops due to accumulation of skin dead cells inside the skin. Dead skin layers are naturally shed off and replaced by newer healthy ones. When the layers fail to shed, they may enter hair follicles and ultimately form an epidermoid cyst.
  • Sebaceous cyst – a sebaceous cyst forms when hair follicles clog with sebum. With time, bacteria thriving on the skin may find a way into the clogged follicles. The sebum, bacteria and pus will ultimately accumulate in the follicle to form a sebaceous cyst. The term sebaceous comes from the fact that sebum is secreted by sebaceous glands.

These two types of cysts are not very different from each other. However, an epidermoid cyst tends to form a harder lump in earlobe compared to a sebaceous cyst.

It should be noted that cysts are different from boils. Cysts are rarely painful and are mostly hard to touch. Boils are usually painful and soft to the touch.

Causes, symptoms and treatment for hard lump in earlobe due to cysts

Cysts are thought to be caused by damaged hair follicles and sometimes overactive sebaceous glands. They are also observed to occur more often in certain family lines. Cysts are common during post-adolescent years.

A cyst can be noted due to formation of a hard lump behind the earlobe. The lump will rarely be painful and will not keep gaining mass.

In some cases, lumps due to cysts can be painful or keep getting bigger. A doctor should be consulted in that case. Normally, cysts do not require any special medical treatment. They can however be drained by a doctor if necessary.

The earlobes are not the only body parts commonly affected by cysts. Cysts are common on face, scalp, armpit, buttocks and back. In fact, a lump under the chin with no pain or a hard painful lump under the armpit may be due to a cyst.

At home, you can try warm compressing on the cyst. Warm compressing reduces pain and encourages drying of the pus or fluid that may be contained in the cyst.

Other causes of lump behind or inside earlobe

Cysts are the most common causes of lumps on or behind the earlobe. All the same, a number of other causes could also be responsible. They include:


Having the earlobe pierced can lead to a lump in one way or another. The most common reason is because of bacterial infections. It can also be due to trauma sustained on the earlobe. As it is with any other part of the skin, the earlobe too is bound to inflame after injury.


A painful lump in earlobe can be due to abscess. Abscesses are caused by bacterial infections. When bacteria attack an open wound, white blood cells invade the bacteria, as a part of the body’s defense mechanism. The resulting chaos and pus accumulates and forms a lump which is usually painful and with a burning sensation. Antibiotics are required to treat a sore lump behind the ear due to an abscess. A bit of cold compressing with olive or coconut oil too can help.


Acne forms through the same process that forms sebaceous cysts. In the case of acne however, keratin does not form around the affected follicle. Lumps due to acne are often soft and only painful if infected.


Folliculitis occurs when one or more hair follicles become inflamed. Inflammation, in this case, is caused by infection which can be due to damaged or injured hair follicles. While a painful lump in the earlobe can be due to folliculitis, the condition is more common on the scalp.


Lymphadenopathy is a term used to describe swollen lymph nodes. It occurs in the advent of an infection. Lymph nodes are located behind the ear, so the lump will occur not on but behind the earlobe.

Allergy and physical injuries

Contact with allergens is likely to lead to the inflammation of the affected part. On the earlobe, allergic reaction may occur after contact with earrings. Physical injuries such as being stung by an insect will also lead to itchy lump on the earlobe.


A hard lump in the earlobe may be due to cancer. Cancer occurs when body cells divide uncontrollably. This can be triggered by various factors such as radiation or metals used to make earrings.

Symptoms of lump in earlobe

  • Skin redness
  • Pain and burning sensation
  • Swelling
  • Discomfort on the earlobe or inside ear
  • Pus
  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Headache
  • Loss of weight
  • Lumps on other body parts, such as below the jaw or a painful lump in the throat

A small lump inside earlobe will most likely disappear on its own. In fact, some may not produce any notable symptoms.

Symptoms such as pain, pus, burning sensation and fever indicate bacterial infection. This should be treated by a doctor. If you are to experience symptoms such as a hard lump that is continuously gaining mass, it may be a sign of cancer. It can also be a benign tumor. Either way, a biopsy is the best alternative to confirm. Make sure to closely monitor the symptoms.

Diagnosis for lump behind earlobe

Online pictures and the symptoms experienced can help you diagnose the cause and type of a lump inside the earlobe or one on the earlobe. It is however more advisable to consider clinical diagnosis. This is especially true if the lump is accompanied by other lumps near jaw, in the groin area and on the throat.

A doctor will ask a few questions. They will mostly revolve around the symptoms, how long you have had the lump, any changes that have been observed and any family health complications.

Presence of cancerous cells may require a biopsy to rule them out. Biopsy involves getting a small piece of the affected region and testing it in the lab for signs of malignant cells.

Treatment for lumps on or behind earlobe

As mentioned earlier, cysts are the most common causes of lumps on the earlobe. A lump due to a cyst rarely hurts. It also is never cancerous. For such reasons, the best treatment approach is to let it heal on its own with time. A painful cyst can however be removed through incision. This is best done by a doctor, to lessen chances of infection and skin damage.

A sore lump on the earlobe after piercing can be soothed through cold compress. It will be important to avoid irritant earrings at the time that the earlobe is still recovering.

Infected earlobe lumps require treatment with antibiotics. Symptoms of infection on or behind the earlobe should never be ignored. This is because severe infection can lead to loss of hearing or spread of the infection to other body. A doctor is in the best position to prescribe antibiotics depending on how severe the infection is.

Antihistamines and steroid-based medications may help with itchy and inflamed lumps on the earlobe. This is mostly in case the lumps are due to allergic reactions or due to skin conditions such as eczema. Antihistamines relieve itchiness while steroids reduce inflammation.

Cancerous tumors require very advanced treatment procedures. The problem is that even with such procedures, recovery is not guaranteed. It is for this reason that a hard lump in earlobe which keeps adding mass should be checked. Other than continuously growing lumps, cancer lumps will also cause symptoms such as loss of weight, cough, swollen lymph nodes, and small lump on the testicle or on the breast.

Treatment at home can be done with home remedies and self-care measures. Tea tree oil for example is known to reduce inflammation and fight bacterial infections. When using tea tree oil, make sure to dilute it with water.

You can also try aloe Vera, witch hazel, turmeric, garlic or olive oil. Note that these home remedies are mostly recommended when you have reasons to expect microbial accumulation or entry. They will not help with lumps due to malignant or benign lumps. Tumors require removal by surgery.

Self-care measures include;

  • Not bursting the lump
  • Getting professional ear piercing
  • Avoiding irritant metals for earrings
  • Understanding the symptoms of harmful and harmless lumps. This includes details on how to check breasts for lumps
  • Getting immediate medical help whenever necessary