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About Skin Lumps
  • Most swollen glands or lumps under the skin are not cause for concern.
  • Swollen lymph nodes commonly develop when the body fights minor infections from colds, insect bites, or small cuts. More serious infections may cause the glands to enlarge and become very firm and tender. See illustrations of swollen lymph nodes and common sites of swollen lymph nodes.
  • Swollen lymph nodes may be a symptom of illness.

When lymph nodes swell in two or more areas of the body, it is called generalized lymphadenopathy. It may be caused by:

  • A viral illness, such as mononucleosis, measles, rubella, chickenpox (varicella), or mumps.
  • A bacterial illness.
  • Side effects of phenytoin (Dilantin).
  • Side effects of measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccination.
  • Cancer, such as lymphoma or leukemia.
  • Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS).
  • Other medical conditions and diseases eg. Hodgkin's disease.
  • Other types of lumps may be noncancerous (benign) growths, hernias, aneurysms, result of an infection or cancer.

Noncancerous (benign) growths which is usually harmless, may be:

  • Lipoma, a smooth, rubbery, dome-shaped lump that is easily movable under the skin.
  • A cyst, a harmless sac of fluid and debris that sometimes hurts. Examples include a thyroglossal duct cyst found near the windpipe (trachea) or branchial cleft cyst found below the earlobe. These cysts are more common in children after a upper respiratory illness.
  • A ganglion, a soft, rubbery lump (a type of cyst) on the front or back of the wrist.
  • An epidermal cyst, which often appears on the scalp, ears, face, and back.
  • A thyroid nodule, an abnormal growth on the thyroid gland, in the neck just below the Adam's apple.
  • A salivary gland problem, such as inflammation, a salivary stone, an infection, or a tumor.
  • An overgrown scar (keloid).
  • An inflammation of fatty tissue under the skin (erythema nodosum).
  • Hernias or aneurysms - a hernia or aneurysm results from an organ or blood vessel pushing out from under the skin.


  • Cystic lesions from acne are large pimples that occur deep under the skin.
  • A boil (abscess), similar to an large pimple, may develop when a hair follicle or the skin becomes infected.
  • A sweat gland abscess (hidradenitis suppurativa) may form a boil-like lump in the armpit.
  • Tonsillitis may cause the neck to look swollen.
  • A viral infection of the skin (molluscum contagiosum) causes small pearly or flesh-colored bumps.

Cancer - a cancerous lump:

  • Is usually hard, irregularly shaped, and firmly fixed under the skin or deep in tissue.
  • Is usually painless but may be painful.

What You Can Do

  • Avoid irritation.
    • Do not squeeze, scratch or pick at the lump.
    • Leave the lump exposed to the air whenever possible.
    • Adjust your clothing to avoid rubbing the lump.
  • Prevent infection.
    • Gently wash the lump with an antibacterial soap once or twice a day.
    • Leave the lump unbandaged, unless it becomes irritated or dirty.
    • Do not squeeze, scratch, drain, or puncture a painful lump. Doing this can irritate or inflame the lump, push any existing infection deeper into the skin, or cause severe bleeding.
    • Apply a bandage if the painful lump begins to drain pus.
    • Change the bandage every day and any time it gets wet. If a dressing is stuck to a scab, soak the dressing in warm water to soften the scab and make it easier to remove the bandage.
    • Watch for signs of a more serious infection, such as increasing pain, pressure, swelling, redness, heat, fever, or chills.
    • Apply warm, wet washcloths to the painful lump for 20 to 30 minutes, 3 to 4 times a day. If you prefer, you can also use a hot water bottle or heating pad over a damp towel. The heat and moisture can soothe the lump, increase blood circulation to the area, and speed healing. It can also bring a lump caused by infection to a head (but it may take 5 to 7 days). Be careful not to burn your skin. Do not use water that is warmer than bath water.
    • Treat any cold or other infection that is causing the glands to swell.
  • Consult your physician if the:
    • Lump or swollen gland gets worse or does not go away after 2 weeks of home treatment.
    • Signs of a skin infection develop.
    • Symptoms become more severe or frequent.
Skin Lumps