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Neck Lump: When to Worry

Updated: May 13



A lump on the neck can be a source of worry and anxiety. However, it’s important to remember that most neck lumps are benign and not cancerous⁽¹⁾. In this blog, we'll go over some of the common causes of a neck lump and some symptoms to look out for that may warrant more worry.


Thyroglossal Duct Cyst

Klaus D. Peter, Gummersbach, Germany, CC BY 3.0 DE, via Wikimedia Commons



What are Neck Lumps?

Neck lumps, also known as neck masses, can be large and visible, or they can be very small. They can result from a variety of conditions:


Neck lumps are masses or bumps that appear in the neck. Lumps in your neck that are naturally present are called "lymph nodes". Most of the time, you won't be able to feel them. But if you’re fighting an infection, such as a cold, ear infection, tonsillitis or glandular fever, they can swell in size as your body fights the infection⁽²⁾. This is the most common cause of a neck lump.


Causes

A neck lump can also be caused by many other things, including:


  • Lipomas, fatty tumors that are usually soft and painless

  • A problem with your salivary gland - this may be an infection of the gland or salivary stones⁽²

  • A problem with your thyroid gland - this could be the swelling of the gland (goiter) or a thyroid cyst⁽²

  • A skin problem - this may be a wound, skin tag, acne with boils, an abscess or a fluid-filled cyst

  • A blood vessel - it’s possible for a blood vessel in the neck to become larger, causing a lump to form (aneurysm, jugular vein distention(³))

  • Abnormal development - a lump may be present at birth or develop later on

  • Allergic reaction⁽²


Lump Characteristics

How a lump feels can also say a lot about its cause. Lumps in or just below the skin may be due to a cyst - a fluid-filled lump that feels like a pea under the skin. If the lump is hanging off the skin and looks like a wart, it may be a wart or a skin tag.


Doctor examining patient's thyroid glands
Doctor examining patient's thyroid glands. Africa Images

The precise location of a neck lump can also provide important information about its underlying cause. For instance, a lump resulting from an enlarged thyroid gland typically appears on the front of the neck. A lump situated on either side of your neck might indicate a swollen lymph node, which could be a response to an infection.



When to Worry About a Neck Lump

While most neck lumps are not harmful, there are certain signs and symptoms that should prompt you to seek medical attention. You should see a doctor if:


  • The lump lasts longer than two to three weeks

  • The lump is hard and immovable.

  • The lump gets larger

  • The lump gets smaller but does not completely go away

  • You have ongoing hoarseness or changing of the voice

  • You have difficulty swallowing or pain

  • You have trouble hearing or ear pain on the same side as the neck mass


Check Yourself

When examining your neck for lumps, keep A.L.E.R.T.S. in mind. These key signs can help you identify any abnormalities that may require further evaluation:


Signs of Neck Lumps A.L.E.R.T.S.
A.L.E.R.T.S. for Neck Lump | ENT Family
  • Asymmetry: Any lump that causes the neck to appear asymmetrical should be examined.

  • Limited mobility: A lump that restricts the normal movement of the neck, or a lump that is immovable should be evaluated.

  • Edges: Notice if the edges of your neck lump are well-defined or irregular.

  • Redness or warmth: Any redness or warmth over a neck lump should be examined promptly.

  • Texture: The texture and consistency should be noted, whether it's soft, hard, or rubbery.

  • Swelling & skin changes: Any swellings, enlargements or growths, and changes in the skin overlying a lump, such as dimpling, should be examined.


The only way to free yourself from worry is to get your neck mass checked by a doctor. Early detection can improve prognosis and increase treatment options.



 

Concerned about a neck lump?


If you’re concerned about a lump on your neck, don’t hesitate to take action. ENT Family is here to help. Our experienced otolaryngologist is ready to provide you with the care and attention you need. Schedule a consultation with us today.


Address: 3911 Hollywood Blvd#201, Hollywood, FL 33021, United States

Phone: 754-888-1368







REFERENCES

[1] Moffitt Cancer Center. (n.d.). What doctor should I see for a lump on my neck?. moffitt. https://www.moffitt.org/cancers/head-and-neck-cancer/faqs/doctor-for-lump-on-neck/


[2] U.S. National Library of Medicine. (2022). Neck lump: Medlineplus medical encyclopedia. MedlinePlus. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/003098.htm


[3] Cleveland Clinic. (2024). Jugular Vein Distention. Cleveland Clinic. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/symptoms/23149-jugular-vein-distention




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Dr. David Eleff, Otolaryngologist/Ear, Nose, and Throat Specialist at ENT Family in Hollywood, Florida.

This article has been medically reviewed by  otolaryngologist, David Eleff, M.D.

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