What Do Swollen Lymph Nodes Behind the Ear Mean?

May 7th 2016

Swollen lymph nodes behind the ears are uncomfortable and unsightly, but more importantly, they can be an indicator of serious underlying issues. If the nodes neither respond to treatment nor begin to shrink within a week or so, seek advice from your medical practitioner.


One of the most common causes of swollen lymph nodes in any part of the body is infection, as their growth is typically due to increased autoimmune response. The nodes behind the ear react to bacterial, viral and fungal infections in very similar ways, so it can be difficult to tell the cause of their increased size in the absence of other symptoms. Fungal infections tend to be accompanied by skin issues and itching, while bacterial infections that have spread from the mouth may cause bad breath or gingivitis. If you are concerned about any of these symptoms, see a qualified physician for a blood test to discover the cause of the infection.

Autoimmune Diseases

When suffering from any of several relatively common autoimmune diseases, such as lupus or Hashimoto's disease, the immune system becomes overactive rather than failing. This can lead to symptoms including enlarged lymph nodes. In such cases, the diagnosis for an autoimmune disease is likely to have been made before the lymph nodes become an issue. They may, however, be a confirmatory symptom.


Swollen lymph glands are a common sign of lymphoma or blood cancers. These cause malignant cells to circulate within the body, which can lead to localized reactions. If the swelling is only behind the ears, there might also be a growth in that area that is causing that region to respond radically.


The most pressing need when treating swollen lymph nodes behind the ears is to relieve the pressure and discomfort. Warm-to-hot compresses can help as long as they do not scald the skin, and sipping warm liquids relieves some of the pain. If you are confident that it is an infection, antimicrobial supplements such as garlic may help, or your doctor may prescribe either antifungals or antibiotics. However, proper treatment depends on the cause of the swelling. Cases of cancer or autoimmune disease require more comprehensive treatment programs.


Swollen lymph nodes that are more than 1 centimeter across in any part of the body are a symptom that must be taken seriously, but when they appear behind the ear, they can indicate particular issues. Possible causes for swollen lymph nodes include infections, cancers and autoimmune diseases, so it's worthwhile to understand why they occur, how to treat them and when to seek urgent medical help.

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