Swelling of the lymph nodes is often the sign of an infection, which can be bacterial, viral or fungal. This write-up provides information on what causes swelling of the lymph nodes that are located behind the ear, along with the associated symptoms, and treatment options.
The lymphatic system is a network of vessels and ducts, that are responsible for bringing interstitial fluid (fluid that exists outside the blood vessels) back into the circulatory system. The lymph nodes are a part of this system, and are associated with the filtration of lymph and production of antibodies.
They also produce macrophages, a type of phagocytes that engulf and digest debris and microorganisms. Thus, they defend the body against infectious agents like viruses and bacteria, and get rid of toxins as well as particulate matter.
A lymph node or gland is usually a small bean-shaped lump of tissue, that contain white blood cells. They are present throughout the body, singly or in groups, and each group is concerned with draining a particular area of the body. Groups of lymph nodes can be found in the neck, groin, behind the ears, and under the armpits. The lymph nodes that are more likely to be affected by lymphadenopathy (swelling of the lymph nodes), are those found under the armpits, neck, groin, under the chin or jaw, and around the ears.
▶▶ Swollen lymph nodes behind the ear, in particular, can be associated with an eye infection, upper respiratory infection, or an infection around the scalp. Ear infections can be another reason behind the enlargement of lymph nodes located around the ears and neck. Sometimes, injury to the lymph nodes can also cause them to enlarge.
▶▶ Lymph nodes can swell due to diseases like common cold and flu. These conditions can cause swelling of several lymph nodes, but more commonly, the lymph nodes located on either side of the neck and under the jaw, along with those found behind the ears.
▶▶ German measles is caused by the rubella virus, and this viral infection is known to produce a distinctive red or pink rash that first appears on the face, and then spreads to the trunk, arms and legs. In addition to skin rash, one can develop swollen and tender lymph nodes behind the ears, back of the neck, and at the base of the skull, due to this viral infection.
▶▶ Generalized swelling of the lymph nodes throughout the body may have an association with conditions like HIV infection or AIDS, and fungal and parasitic infections. An allergic reaction to certain substances, medicines, or food, may also cause the lymph nodes of different areas to enlarge.
▶▶ Sometimes, this swelling can be associated with cancer. It can be the result of an accumulation of cancerous or malignant cells inside the lymph nodes. More commonly, lymphoma (cancer of the lymph nodes), and Hodgkin’s lymphoma (cancer of the lymph tissues) can cause enlargement of the nodes. Apart from lymphoma, leukemia (blood cancer), and throat cancer can cause lymph node enlargement as well.
▶▶ Other possible causes of swollen glands or lymph nodes include, shingles, an abscessed tooth, strep throat, herpes, and certain sexually transmitted diseases. Immune system disorders like lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, mononucleosis, measles, tuberculosis, and cat scratch fever, are some of the less-common causes of lymph node swelling.
- Pain and tenderness, which can be felt when pressure is applied on the swollen nodes.
- Fever, which is a sign of an infection.
- Problem in swallowing due to painful swollen nodes.
- Earache, if the swelling is caused by an infection or injury to the nodes.
- Redness and warmth in the area where the nodes are swollen.
- Runny nose and sore throat (if the swelling is associated with an infection of the upper respiratory tract).
Some swollen lymph nodes are soft, while others can be hard and rubbery. Soft lymph nodes that can be moved easily can indicate an infection or inflammation. But, hard and rubbery nodes that do not move and don’t result in any pain, may be associated with an underlying disease that needs medical attention. Lymph nodes that are growing in size also calls for proper evaluation by a health care practitioner.
- The treatment of a bacterial infection usually involves the administration of antibiotics.
- In severe cases, intravenous administration of antibiotic drugs might be required.
- If a person has developed an allergic reaction, doctors would recommend the use of antihistamines and anti-inflammatory drugs.
- Painkillers would be prescribed if the swelling is accompanied by pain.
- In case of autoimmune diseases, the use of immunosuppressants may be recommended by the physician.
- Once the infection has been resolved, the affected lymph node will shrink back to its original size. If the swelling persists for a long time, then the doctor might conduct a CT scan or a lymph node biopsy to rule out medical conditions like cancer or lymphoma. Extensive treatment would be required if a person is diagnosed with cancer.
Swelling of the lymph nodes behind the ears or in any other area is usually not a very serious condition. However, if they are painful and are growing in size, then it is better to consult a physician to detect the underlying cause.
Disclaimer:This article is for informative purposes only, and should not be treated as a substitute for professional medical advice.