Earlobe cysts, otherwise known as epidermoid cysts or epidermal inclusion cysts, grow slowly. A doctor will usually recommend removal only if there is pain, discomfort, bursting, or infection.
Cysts commonly form on adults in areas that are not heavily covered with hair, such as on the face, neck, or trunk.
Here we discuss what a person can expect when they discover an earlobe cyst, as well as symptoms and treatment.
Causes and risk factors
A cyst on an earlobe may be more likely to develop in men than women.
Image credit: Jonathan RR, (2007, May 25).
A cyst is a sac-like pocket of tissue that contains fluid, air, or another substance.
When skin cells multiply or grow instead of shedding, they can form cysts within the innermost layer of the skin. These epidermoid cysts can also form if the outermost layer of a hair follicle becomes irritated or injured.
Men are at a higher risk for developing these cysts, but anyone at any age can have by them. Factors that increase the likelihood of a person developing an epidermoid cyst include:
- Age: being past the age of puberty
- Genetics: having a certain genetic condition, such as Gardner syndrome, in which tumors and polyps develop in and around the colon
- Injury: sustaining an injury to the skin or having a history of acne
Cancerous cells rarely develop within epidermoid cysts. However, some cancers have a stronger link to these cysts than others. They include:
A cyst on the ear will appear as a firm, round bump under the skin.
The following are some symptoms associated with an epidermal cyst on the earlobe:
- a small, flesh-colored bump under the earlobe's skin
- a cyst that is firm and round
- a cyst that may or may not have a central plug, which looks like a blackhead
- drainage of keratin, a thick, cheese-like substance that can have a foul odor
At times, an earlobe cyst can become infected and require medical attention. Signs of an infection may include:
- redness and inflammation of the area
- swelling and tenderness or pain
- a boil-like infection from a burst cyst
Epidermal earlobe cysts are diagnosed by examination and do not require treatment in most cases.
Sometimes, a doctor will take a sample of a cyst, in a procedure known as a biopsy, and examine the sample under a microscope.
When necessary or desired, treatment usually involves removing the cyst with a simple cut and local anesthetic. Surgical removal may also prevent a cyst from reforming.
Otherwise, a doctor can make a small cut in the cyst and drain the contents. This option is quick and simple, but cysts are more likely to return.
A doctor may recommend antibiotics in the event of infection. They may also inject a steroid into the cyst to reduce inflammation.
While earlobe cysts cannot be prevented, they can be managed at home if there are no signs of infection.
Do not squeeze a cyst, as this can cause scarring and lead to infection.
A person may want to place a warm compress over the cyst, to promote drainage and healing.
A cyst that appears to have burst or that is infected should be assessed by a doctor.
Earlobe cysts are usually not a cause for concern. However, certain complications may require medical intervention.
These complications may include:
- inflammation and infection
- bursting of the cyst
- skin cancer, although this is rare
If a cyst seems to have burst or is infected, see a doctor.
Earlobe cysts are usually benign and tend to form in middle-aged adults.
Cysts can occasionally be a symptom of a genetic abnormality. People, particularly those with a history of Gardner syndrome or another genetic condition, may want to speak to a doctor about the appearance of a cyst.
Medical treatment is not needed to treat most earlobe cysts. Some may even go away on their own.
However, if a person suspects that a cyst has burst or is infected, it is important to seek medical attention.