Lymph nodes are glands that are found throughout the body, most notably in the neck, behind the ears and under the arms. These small, bean shaped glands store nutrients and fluids and help to filter waste material out of the bloodstream and body tissue. The lymph nodes will also produce antibodies which can help fight off viruses, bacteria and other damaging materials that find their way into the blood stream. Afterwards, the lymph nodes will absorb these materials to help filter them out of the body, causing the lymph nodes to temporarily become swollen. This does not typically cause any pain but the swollen area can feel uncomfortable, as though something is out of place.
Possible Causes of Swollen Lymph Nodes behind the Ear
The lymph nodes are sensitive to changes in the body, most notably new tissues or particles that agitate the immune system. Listed below are some of the most common causes for swollen lymph nodes behind the left ear.
Infections- Infections which enlarge the lymph nodes can be bacterial, viral or fungal. When the body suffers an infection, the cells start to produce antibodies to fight it off. Infections frequently cause the lymph nodes to become swollen as they work to produce additional antibodies to seek out these infectious agents. As they work to increase production, they will become enlarged. If the lymph nodes behind the ears are swollen this is a sign that you are suffering from an infection in the ear, throat or eye, and around the scalp. You may also be suffering from an allergic reaction in this area that has heightened your antibody production. Some specific types of infections that affect the nodes behind the left ear include:
- Fungal Infection- Fungal infections in or around the head can cause the lymph nodes behind the ear to swell as the body works to remove the infectious elements. This may be accompanied by itching of the scalp or hair loss if the infection is damaging the skin.
- Bacteria in the Mouth- An infection of the tonsils will cause the lymph nodes behind the ear to become swollen as the body removes the bacteria. Sores in the mouth or gingivitis can also cause the lymph nodes to become swollen.
- Mononucleosis- Mononucleosis, or mono, can cause the lymph nodes to swell as the infection takes hold. A blood test must be done to determine whether or not this is the cause of your discomfort. Mono symptoms are similar to those of the flu, but will also be coupled with extreme fatigue for several days.
Injury- Damaging the neck can cause the lymph nodes to swell as your body works to repair the damage. Bites and cuts can increase the chance that your lymph nodes will swell because your body will increase its source of antibodies to fight off any infectious materials that enter the wound. Wounds in sensitive areas such as the hands, feet or genitals can also cause the lymph nodes to swell as a preventative measure.
Autoimmune Disease- Diseases such as Hashimoto's disease, lupus or other auto immune diseases can cause the lymph nodes to become swollen or uncomfortable. This is due to the immune system becoming damaged by the disease.
Cancer- Some cancers cause the lymph nodes to grow in size. This is a common sign of lymphoma or blood cancers which cause malignant cells to flow throughout the body. If swelling is restricted to the area behind the ears you may have a tumor or growth in this area that is causing your body to go on high alert.
Treatments for Swollen Lymph Nodes behind the Ear
Treatments for swollen lymph nodes should address your discomfort as well as other symptoms that accompany your condition. Home remedies can often provide adequate relief, but if they appear to have no affect you should contact your doctor to determine if medical intervention is necessary.
In most cases, home care can help relieve swollen lymph nodes. Applying a hot compress can help relieve the discomfort, though it should not be so hot as to scald the skin. If you are suffering from an infection in the throat, or if the sinuses are inflamed, sipping warm liquids such as chicken broth or tea can help provide relief. It is common for lymph nodes to remain swollen for several days as your body fights off the infection.
Your lymph nodes will not return to their normal size until the infection in the body has been distinguished. If this is taking a long time or your other symptoms are causing discomfort you should see your doctor to get antibiotics to help ward off the infection. Your doctor will perform tests to help determine what type of infection you are suffering from so they can recommend appropriate treatment. It may be necessary to take blood samples or perform x-rays or a CT scan to see if there are tumors or other serious conditions present in the body causing the lymph nodes to become swollen. The lymph nodes behind the ears are especially sensitive to cancerous cells, so it is important to seek medical attention if these appear to be acting in an irregular way.
If your lymph nodes have been swollen for several weeks, if they feel hard or fixed in place, they become tender or red, or they feel irregular then you should see a doctor to determine what might be wrong. See a doctor right away if you start to experience night sweats, fever or unexplained weight loss. This is a sign that you may be dealing with a more serious condition that is affecting the behind the ear. Check for swelling near the collar bone, or around the neck. This will signal that you are suffering from an infection that is spreading to more sensitive areas of the body.