Pea-Sized Lump in Neck: Potential Causes and Treatment – Healthline

The appearance of a pea-sized lump in your neck can set off alarm bells, but before you assume the worst, keep in mind that most lumps and bumps you find on your body are usually harmless and temporary.
In many cases, a small lump in the neck is a swollen lymph node that simply could be a sign you’re fighting an infection. It could be the result of an insect bite or sting, or it may possibly be a sebaceous cyst.
The location, hardness, and other characteristics of the lump should be noted, however, as they may determine whether a medical evaluation is necessary.
Even if it’s just a virus, you still may benefit from seeing a doctor for a proper diagnosis and treatment. Let’s cover conditions that can produce such a symptom.
A neck lump (also called a neck mass) has many potential causes. The following is a list of common reasons for a small, pea-sized neck lump to form.
You have lymph nodes throughout your body, including split pea-sized on both sides of your neck. Lymph nodes help filter out damaged or harmful cells from lymphatic fluid, and they also help fight infections by housing immune cells that fight disease. Swollen lymph nodes in the neck can be a sign of a:
While a lymph node in the neck is usually the size of a split pea, it can swell to be 1 inch in diameter or larger. If this occurs, you should see a doctor within 24 hours. If a lymph node swells in response to an infection, it will usually shrink within 2 to 3 weeks. If the node remains unchanged or grows over a period of a few weeks, it could be something more serious, such as leukemia.
If the lump is warm and tender to the touch, that’s probably a sign of the body fighting an infection. A lump swollen by leukemia is usually painless.
A lipoma is a bump formed by fatty tissue just under the skin’s surface. Lipomas are usually painless and harmless, and don’t need to be removed except for cosmetic reasons.
An epidermoid cyst is located just under the skin’s surface and is filled with keratin, a protein that helps make up your skin and hair. These cysts are usually painless and are unlikely to cause problems. They can become inflamed, however, and may need to be removed.
Just under the skin are sebaceous glands that produce an oily substance (sebum) to keep your skin moisturized and protected. A sebaceous cyst can form if the gland’s duct becomes damaged or blocked and sebum builds up inside.
A baby born with a neck mass is likely to have one of three congenital neck masses:
An injured neck muscle may cause general swelling or a small lump to form under the skin. With rest, these injuries usually heal on their own.
A raised red lump on the neck that appears suddenly may be a reaction to an encounter with a mosquito or other insect. Bug bites and stings tend to have a distinct look and may itch.
In rare cases, a small lump that forms in the neck is a cancerous solid tumor or a swollen lymph node because of leukemia or lymphoma.
As mentioned above, see a doctor if the lump grows to 1 inch in diameter or larger or does not shrink after 2 or more weeks. That could be a symptom of leukemia.
You have 200 or so lymph nodes in your neck, so a swollen node can occur almost anywhere. But in many cases, including the enlargement of certain lymph nodes, the location of the lump can help steer you and your doctor toward the right diagnosis.
If the lump appears somewhere on the back of the neck, possible causes include:
When the lump forms on either side of the neck, possible causes include:
A lump that develops above the collarbone could be:
A softer lump that moves when you push it can be a healthy lymph node, a lipoma, or other harmless condition. A cancerous lymph node is usually hard and immovable. Some other cancerous masses may be harder as well. However, the size and location of the mass, as well as how long it has been visible, are all more important than how much or how little it moves.
In evaluating the cause of a mass forming in the neck, your doctor will examine the lump as part of a physical examination. They may check for swelling in other lymph nodes in the body, particularly the armpits and groin.
You should also be prepared to provide your medical history, any family history of diseases like cancer, and a description and timeline of your symptoms. Your doctor will likely order a complete blood count (CBC) and other specific blood work to test for markers of illness, such as:
Lymph nodes that have remained swollen or continue to grow larger may be biopsied to determine whether the cause is a chronic infection, autoimmune condition, or cancer.
Imaging, including a neck X-ray, a computed tomography (CT) scan, or ultrasound may also be ordered.
A lump in the neck is a symptom of some health concern, usually temporary and ultimately harmless, but in rare cases is a more serious problem. Treating the underlying cause of the neck mass will typically cause the lump to recede. In some cases, though, the lump itself can be removed, as there is no other underlying cause to treat.
If the diagnosis is viral mononucleosis or other common viral infection, then rest and fluids are the typical treatment. For serious infections, antiviral medications may be needed.
A course of antibiotic treatment may be necessary. And depending on the nature of the infection, other treatments could be required, too. For example, a respiratory infection may mean you need an inhaler to help open the airways in the lungs.
A cyst may be drained of fluid, but in many cases they are surgically removed for cosmetic reasons.
Rest and ice should bring down the inflammation and swelling. Once your muscle has healed, massage may help you keep the muscle more relaxed and less likely to tense and become injured.
Whether it’s leukemia, lymphoma, or another type of cancer, treatment will depend on the severity of the disease. The stage and grade of the cancer will determine whether radiation therapy, chemotherapy, surgery, or some other treatment is the best approach.
A pea-sized lump in the neck is most likely a swollen lymph node and a sign your body is fighting an infection or an allergic reaction. If the lump, also known as a mass, retreats within a week or so and you have no other symptoms, then no medical attention is required.
If, however, the lump grows or becomes painful, or if you are experiencing symptoms like fever, difficulty swallowing, fatigue, or other signs of illness, then seek medical attention soon.
Last medically reviewed on September 20, 2021
Our experts continually monitor the health and wellness space, and we update our articles when new information becomes available.
Current Version
Sep 20, 2021
Written By
James Roland
Edited By
Roman Gokhman
Medically Reviewed By
Stacy Sampson, D.O.
Copy Edited By
Megan McMorris
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