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What are the Most Common Causes of a Swelling Behind the Ear?

By T. M. Robertson
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Swelling behind the ear is typically a result of an enlarged lymph node. People also refer to this condition as having swollen glands or swollen lymph nodes. Lymph nodes can be found in many places in the body, including the groin, armpits, neck, and behind the ears. The lymph nodes' primary function is to assist the body in eliminating foreign bacteria and infections. Their swelling can be caused by infections, injuries, or cancer.

The lymphatic system, which contains the lymph nodes, carries lymphatic fluids throughout the body. As this fluid passes through the lymph nodes, they filter bacteria and other infectious materials out of the system. On occasion, the lymph nodes themselves can become infected or enlarged due to other problems, which then manifest in swelling behind the ear. In the majority of cases, the swelling is due to an infection and normally lasts from a few days to a week. A doctor can usually identify the cause of a swollen lymph node by first identifying its location in the body.

When a person has a cold, the infection can trigger swelling behind the ear, on the neck, or under the jaw. Swelling in the armpit is a sign that a person has an infection affecting the arms or hands. If a person experiences swelling in the groin, an infection may be present in the legs or feet. In cases where the swollen lymph nodes are not caused by infection, the condition may be a result from an injury or from cancer. The three main types of cancer that produce swelling of the lymph nodes include leukemia, Hodgkin's disease, and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.

Treatment will depend on the exact cause of the condition. In cases where the swelling is due to an infection, antibiotics will usually be prescribed, and the swelling behind the ear should go away within a week. When the swelling is caused by an injury to the body, the injury itself will have to be treated, and the swelling should then naturally go down on its own. If cancer is the cause, a biopsy will have to be performed to diagnose the condition, and the doctor will then have to decide on the best route to take. Depending on the location and severity of the cancer, the lymph nodes themselves, along with other infected tissues, may need to be removed.

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Discussion Comments

By anon323226 — On Mar 04, 2013

I came down sick with what I thought was just a cold and then I started to have pain behind my ear and neck. I thought I had strep throat and an ear infection. I had to go to the ER because I just continued to get worse. Come to find out I had bacterial pneumonia and my lymph nodes were trying to fight it because I also had a sinus infection.

While at the hospital I asked the doctor what the swollen glands had to do do with me having pneumonia, and he said that my body was needing some extra reinforcements. Anyway, if you have swollen glads and cold/flu like symptoms, ask the doctor to check for pneumonia.

By feasting — On Aug 11, 2012

I have had swollen glands in my neck and behind my ears before. They were usually caused by a bacterial infection that either affected my sinuses, my throat, my bronchial tubes, or all three.

If the infection didn't produce a fever or a persistent cough, I just waited it out. The swelling would go down in a few days.

If I had a fever with it, I would always seek treatment. Conditions that cause fever are more severe, and I like to get them taken care of before they progress to something worse.

By Kristee — On Aug 10, 2012

My aunt had swollen glands behind the ear when she found out that she had cancer. It had already spread to the lymph nodes, so they had to be removed.

The doctor told her that since the cancer was in the lymph nodes, leaving them in place would increase the risk of the cancer coming back after remission. So, she told him to go ahead and take them.

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