Swollen lymph nodes behind the ear

What you have to know about swollen lymph nodes

Swollen lymph nodes behind the ear indicate an infection. They can be felt with the fingers and are painless in most cases. The lymph nodes swell as soon as a bacterial, viral or fungal infection occurs. Then they produce additional antibodies to find the infectious agents.

Where are the lymph nodes behind the ear located?

In the human body there are between 600 and 700 lymph nodes, located for example in the armpit and groin, near the internal organs and also on the neck and behind the ears. Here the lymph nodes are located on the temporal bone and under the posterior muscle of the ear. If they swell, you can feel them behind the auricle with your fingers. 

Can I feel swollen lymph nodes by myself?

You can feel a swollen or enlarged lymph node with your hands, then you will feel a lump under the skin. When you have a cold or an other infection, you can notice a swelling on the side of your neck or just behind your ears. This are the lymph nodes currently fighting the infectious agents. If the person is healthy, the lymph nodes are usually not noticeable. 

When are the lymph nodes too big?

Depending on the severity of the infection, the lymph nodes can swell up to two centimetres, then they strongly fight against the infectious agents. If the swelling, regardless of size, does not subside over three weeks and there is no indication of infection, a doctor should be consulted to determine the cause of the enlarged lymph nodes.  

Why do lymph nodes swell up behind the ear?

Lymph nodes behind the ear swell when the person is suffering from a bacterial, viral or fungal infection in the ear, throat or eye. Another cause can also be an allergic reaction. The infections that specifically affect the lymph nodes behind the ear are:  

  • Fungal infections in or around the head that cause itching of the scalp or hair loss. 
  • Bacterial infection of the tonsils (tonsilitis) or sores in the mouth or gums that cause the bacteria to need to be removed by antibodies  
  • Pfeiffer's glandular fever that lasts for a long time can lead to an enlargement of the lymph nodes behind the ear .

The lymph nodes behind the ear can also swell if the person has sores on the neck. In an autoimmune disease, the immune system is weakened, and this can also cause the nodes to swell.  In addition, with some cancers, such as lymphoma or leukaemia, swollen lymph nodes behind the ear can be the first sign of the disease.

Can lymph nodes swell on one side only?

Yes, lymph nodes can swell on one side. If a small bump is felt behind the ear, this indicates an enlarged lymph node. It is an indication that there is an infection or an allergic reaction. If the lump does not swell again on its own within three weeks, a doctor should be consulted to examine the patient to determine possible causes.

Symptoms of swelling of the lymph nodes in the ear

The symptoms of swelling of the lymph nodes in the ear can be different and vary in severity depending on the cause. When the immune defence is challenged with fighting a bacterial or viral pathogen, the lymph nodes swell. The skin region may be reddened and overheated. Sometimes those affected also feel pain behind the ear. Other symptoms may also occur, such as fever, tiredness and fatigue, sore throat or problems in swallowing.

When to see a doctor?

For swollen lymph nodes on the neck, behind the ear, under the arm or in the groin area, an appointment should be booked with the doctor if: 

  • The lymph nodes are larger than two centimetres in size.
  • The lymph nodes have been swollen for more than three weeks 
  • The swelling came on suddenly and the node feels hard, whether painless or painful 
  • The skin around the swelling is red, tight or overheated 
  • The skin at the swelling is oozing 
  • Symptoms such as fever, night sweats, unwanted weight loss or shortness of breath occur 

Therapy for swollen lymph nodes behind the ear

Since swollen lymph nodes are not a disease themselves, but only a symptom of a disease, they are not treated directly. The treatment is aimed at fighting the disease that has caused the activity of the immune system and thus the swelling of the lymph node. This could be for example an infection in the mouth or throat, which the doctor treats with antibiotics.

Homeopathy, home remedies and acupuncture

The symptoms of swollen lymph nodes can often be treated with homeopathic remedies, acupuncture or home remedies.  

Homeopathy 

For swollen lymph nodes, the following homeopathic remedies are often recommended by an alternative practitioner: 

  • Kalium chloratum 
  • Echinacea 
  • Iodum 
  • Cistus canadensis 
  • Home remedies 

The following home remedies are recommended for treating lymph node swelling:  

  • Warm or cold compresses applied to the swelling for about 10 minutes. Cold compresses are mainly said to relieve pain and warm compresses are said to promote blood flow to the lymph nodes.  
  • Add honey to the tea; this is said to have an anti-inflammatory effect on infections in the throat and mouth area and thus promote the swelling of the nodes. 
  • Castor oil has an anti-inflammatory effect and activates the immune system. The filtering capacity of the lymph nodes is thus improved and they decongest more quickly. For this purpose, the oil is massaged onto the swelling several times a day.  
  • Apple cider vinegar is said to have an antibacterial effect. For this, a poultice is dipped in apple cider vinegar and water and applied to the swelling. This should be repeated two to three times a day. 
  • Salt dissolved in water is said to have a healing effect on infections in the throat and neck area. For this, the water-salt solution must be gargled several times a day.  

Acupuncture  

For swollen lymph nodes, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) can also help support the immune system through acupuncture. Acupuncture therapy can usually successfully treat the immune deficiency and some inflammations. Fine needles are inserted into the surface of the body along the meridians to release the dysfunctions.

How long does it take for lymph nodes to swell?

Lymph nodes should usually reduce in size within three weeks.  However, if the swelling of the nodes persists for more than two to three weeks, the affected person should book an appointment with the family doctor, even if the nodes are not sensitive to pressure or pain.  The doctor will examine the lymph nodes and clarify possible causes for the swelling and, if necessary, immediately start the treatment. 

Swollen lymph nodes behind the ear in babies

Swollen lymph nodes can also occur in babies, but this is usually harmless. It shows that the baby has an intact immune system which, especially in the first years of life, often fights against still unknown pathogens and viruses. An appointment with the paediatrician is only necessary if the swelling persists for more than two to three weeks or the child suffers from fever, loss of appetite, tiredness or weight loss. 

Complications: Parotid and lymph gland cancer

Possible complications of swollen lymph nodes can be parotid gland cancer or lymph gland cancer. Typical signs of lymph node cancer are particularly painless swollen lymph nodes, fever, weight loss and night sweats. Lymph node cancer can occur at any age, but men are affected slightly more often than women. The therapy used for treatment depends on the type and stage of lymphoma. Parotid gland cancer is usually only detected at a later stage because the tumour is only felt when it is large enough. However, swollen lymph nodes can be a first sign.  The tumour can be felt as a hard, non-displaced lump in front of or under the ear and can be painful. Parotid cancer, also called parotid carcinoma, is much more common in men than in women. Furthermore, this type of cancer is extremely rare.  

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