If you have a lump in front of your ear, you may also be experiencing pain in front of the ear. Causes for this condition arise from underlying skin issues like skin cysts, abscess, warts, or even a pimple in front of the ear. Growth of skin cells, also known as lipoma, can cause a bump in front of the ear. Read below for more causes, related symptoms, and treatment options.
Lump in front of the ear symptoms explained
The ear and the area surrounding it may seem simple, but underneath the skin, there are various complex structures involved in everything from facial sensation to eating. See this image here and here for a visual representation. The area directly in front of the ear contains structures including but not limited to the following.
- Parotid gland: This is the largest salivary gland in the body and is located in front of the ears bilaterally on the face. The parotid gland produces saliva that helps with chewing and digesting food.
- Facial nerve: This nerve and its branches are responsible for movements of the face such as smiling, puffing out the cheeks, and moving the eyebrows.
- Trigeminal nerve: This nerve and its branches are responsible for facial sensation and also innervation to the muscles that control biting and chewing.
- Jaw muscles: The masseter, lateral pterygoid, and medial pterygoid are the main muscles in front of the ear that control biting and chewing.
Common characteristics of a lump in front of the ear
A lump in this area can present with the following.
- Pain or discomfort
- Tenderness to the touch
- Tingling sensation
- Burning sensation
- Loss of facial movement
New lumps and bumps on the body can be a sign of a cancerous process. A lump in front of the ear is less concerning if it has the following characteristics:
- Easily mobile
See a physician for a lump in front of the ear if it has the following characteristics:
- Rigid/stuck in place
- Grows in size over time
- Changes in color
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What can cause a lump in front of the ear?
Any disease, damage, or injury to the structures in front of the ear can result in lumps. The following details may help you better understand your symptoms and if and when you need to see a physician.
Growths can occur in the muscle, soft tissue (including the glands), and nerves in front of the ear and cause hard, sometimes large lumps. For example, growths of the nerves in front of the ear can result in lumps. Usually, these lumps cause pain, tingling, and numbness. Growths in the glands can also result in these symptoms because the facial nerve passes through the parotid.
The lymphatic system is the body's natural way of clearing excess fluid from tissues and transporting lymph, a fluid that contains white blood cells throughout the body. When the multiple nodes and vessels are damaged or activated, they can cause localized swelling or lumps in front of the ear and sometimes in areas of the neck.
A lump may be the result of inflammation of the surrounding structures of the ear.
- Infectious: Many types of infections can affect the different components in front of the ear, especially the glands. These infections may result in abscesses, or pockets of infectious pus, that can manifest as lumps in front of the ear. Panniculitis may be another cause of a lump in front of the ear. Panniculitis is a group of inflammatory diseases that affect the fatty tissue under the skin and result in skin nodules, usually on the lower extremities, and rarely, the face.
- Dermatologic: There are many dermatologic conditions that can result in lumps in front of the ear. For example, cysts are sacs that can be filled with fluid, air or other material that can form in any part of the body. Cysts can occur in front of the ear and cause pain that can lead to injury from constant inflammation.
Insects are a nuisance in general, but insects become even more annoying when they happen to involve bug bites on the body. A bite from an insect, such as a mosquito, spider, flea, etc., can cause a lump in front of the ear that can also swell and become itchy and painful.
In general, any growth is the result of cells dividing and growing uncontrollably. Sometimes there is a genetic mutation in DNA or a specific protein or a failure in an important checkpoint. These abnormal cells accumulate to form a noticeable lump. A lump (also known as a tumor) can be benign and can arise from many of the causes above; however, if this lump grows and invades the body, it is considered malignant. Tumors of the parotid gland can be benign or malignant.
This list does not constitute medical advice and may not accurately represent what you have.
A cyst is a small sac or lump, filled with fluid, air, fat, or other material, that begins to grow somewhere in the body for no apparent reason. A skin cyst is one that forms just beneath the skin.
It's believed that skin cysts form around trapped keratin cells – the cells that form the relatively tough outer layer of the skin.
These cysts are not contagious.
Anyone can get a skin cyst, but they are most common in those who are over age 18, have acne, or have injured the skin.
Symptoms include the appearance of a small, rounded lump under the skin. Cysts are normally painless unless infected, when they will be reddened and sore and contain pus.
Diagnosis is made through physical examination. A small cyst can be left alone, though if it is unsightly or large enough to interfere with movement it can be removed in a simple procedure done in a doctor's office. An infected cyst must be treated so that the infection does not spread.
Top Symptoms: skin-colored armpit bump, marble sized armpit lump, small armpit lump
Symptoms that always occur with skin cyst: skin-colored armpit bump
Urgency: Wait and watch
Lipoma is a word that translates as "fatty tumor," but a lipoma is not cancer. It is simply a growth of fat between the muscle layer and the skin above it.
The exact cause is not known. The condition does run in families and is associated with other unusual syndromes such as adiposis dolorosa, which is similar. Lipomas most often appear after age 40.
Symptoms include a soft, easily moveable lump beneath the skin, about two inches across. A lipoma is painless unless its growth is irritating the nerves around it. They are most often found on the back, neck, and abdomen, and sometimes the arms and upper legs.
It is a good idea to have any new or unusual growth checked by a medical provider, just to make certain it is benign.
Diagnosis is made through physical examination, biopsy, and imaging such as ultrasound or CT scan.
Most of the time, treatment is not necessary unless the lipoma is unsightly or is interfering with other structures. It can be removed through surgery or liposuction.
Top Symptoms: skin-colored groin bump, marble sized groin lump, small groin lump
Symptoms that always occur with lipoma: skin-colored groin bump
Urgency: Wait and watch
A skin abscess is a large pocket of pus that has formed just beneath the skin. It is caused by bacteria getting under the skin, usually through a small cut or scratch, and beginning to multiply. The body fights the invasion with white blood cells, which kill some of the infected tissue but form pus within the cavity that remains.
Symptoms include a large, red, swollen, painful lump of pus anywhere on the body beneath the skin. There may be fever, chills, and body aches from the infection.
If not treated, there is the risk of an abscess enlarging, spreading, and causing serious illness.
Diagnosis is made through physical examination.
A small abscess may heal on its own, through the body's immune system. But some will need to be drained or lanced in a medical provider's office so that the pus can be cleaned out. Antibiotics are usually prescribed.
Keeping the skin clean, and using only clean clothes and towels, will help to make sure that the abscess does not recur.
Top Symptoms: rash with bumps or blisters, red rash, red skin bump larger than 1/2 cm in diameter, pus-filled rash, rash
Symptoms that always occur with skin abscess: rash with bumps or blisters
Urgency: Primary care doctor
Blackheads are caused by hair follicles becoming clogged with oil & dead skin cells. When the clogged pore is open to the air, the air turns the outermost layer black through oxidation.
Top Symptoms: small facial lump, black or brown facial bump
Symptoms that always occur with blackhead: small facial lump, black or brown facial bump
Pimples are also called comedones, spots, blemishes, or "zits." Medically, they are small skin eruptions filled with oil, dead skin cells, and bacteria.
Pimples often first start appearing at puberty, when hormones increase the production of oil in the skin and sometimes clog the pores.
Most susceptible are teenagers from about ages 13 to 17.
Symptoms include blocked pores that may appear flat and black on the surface, because the oil darkens when exposed to the air; blocked pores that appear white on the surface because they have closed over with dead skin cells; or swollen, yellow-white, pus-filled blisters surrounded by reddened skin.
Outbreaks of pimples on the skin can interfere with quality of life, making the person self-conscious about their appearance and causing pain and discomfort in the skin. A medical provider can help to manage the condition, sometimes through referral to a dermatologist.
Diagnosis is made through physical examination.
Treatment involves improving diet; keeping the skin, hair, washcloths, and towels very clean; and using over-the-counter acne remedies.
Top Symptoms: pink or red facial bump, small facial lump, painful facial bump, marble sized facial lump
Symptoms that always occur with pimple: pink or red facial bump
Warts, also called common warts or verrucae, are small, rough, rounded growths on the top layer of the skin. They may appear alone or in clusters. Common warts are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV) and are contagious through direct contact. They may spread from one place on the body to another simply through touch.
Whiteheads are caused by hair follicles becoming clogged with oil & dead skin cells. When the clogged pore is closed to the air by a layer of skin cells, the oil/dead skin cells remains white (as opposed to a blackhead).
Top Symptoms: small facial lump, yellow or white facial bump
Symptoms that always occur with whitehead: small facial lump, yellow or white facial bump
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Possible treatments for a lump in front of the ear
When to see a doctor
The causes of lumps in front of the ear vary, so you should see a physician if it does not resolve quickly.
Lumps related to the lymphatic system often resolve on their own after an infectious process. However, your physician may suggest the following.
- Surgery: Surgery is often the first-line option for removing both benign and malignant growths from in front of the ear and other areas of the body. Surgery for malignant growths is also often combined with other chemical treatments.
- Pain medication: Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) can help the pain associated with a lump in front of ears.
- Cancer treatment: If the lump in front of your ear and associated symptoms are due to malignant cancer, your physician will discuss treatment options including surgery, radiation, or chemotherapy.
Questions your doctor may ask about lump in front of the ear
- What color is the bump?
- Is your ear bump painful to the touch?
- Do you purposely tan (using sun, tanning beds, or UV rays)?
- Has anyone in your family had cancer?
Self-diagnose with our free Buoy Assistant if you answer yes on any of these questions.
- Kacker A, eds. Salivary gland infections. Mount Sinai. Updated August 1, 2017. Mount Sinai Link
- Shargorodsky J. Benign ear cyst or tumor. U.S. National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus. Updated May 17, 2018. MedlinePlus Link
- What is salivary gland cancer? American Cancer Society. Updated September 28, 2017. American Cancer Society Link
- Gonzalez ME. Panniculitis. Merck Manual Consumer Version. Updated March 2018. Merck Manual Consumer Version Link