If You Have Bumps on Your Neck, Here’s What It Could Mean
Lumps and bumps can appear anywhere on your body, including your neck. Here’s the 411 on what your neck bumps could be—and what to do.
A thyroid nodule
Your thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland at the base of your neck that produces the hormones that keep your metabolism humming. Thyroid nodules are abnormal clusters of thyroid cells that form a lump within the thyroid gland. Thyroid nodules rarely cause any symptoms, but you may notice a lump on your neck while looking in a mirror or buttoning your collar, explains Minisha Sood, MD, an endocrinologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. As many as 50 percent of us will have at least one thyroid nodule by the age of 60, according to the American Thyroid Association.
What to do: Don’t panic, Dr. Sood says. “This is very likely a benign condition, but seek an evaluation from your internist or endocrinologist to be sure.” Learn more about your thyroid gland.
An enlarged thyroid gland
If you see a swelling in the front of your neck, it could be an enlarged thyroid gland, also known as a goiter, says Dr. Sood. “If there is a concern, tip your chin up, look in mirror sideways, take a sip of water, and see if there is swelling that moves up and down,” she suggests. Graves’ disease is an autoimmune condition marked by the overproduction of thyroid hormones (hyperthyroidism) and may cause an enlarged thyroid. An underactive thyroid may also lead to an enlarged thyroid gland. Both conditions come with symptoms: People with Graves’ disease may experience a racing heartbeat, hand tremors, trouble sleeping, weight loss, and muscle weakness; hypothyroidism is characterized by dry skin, thinning hair, and constipation, among other symptoms. Look for these 13 silent symptoms of thyroid problems.
What to do: Your doctor will order imaging and blood tests to figure out what is causing the enlarged thyroid. “These tests look at the anatomy and function of the thyroid gland,” says Dr. Sood. Most of the time, thyroid disease is benign and treatable, she says. “The odds are in your favor that it’s benign, but it should be evaluated.” Factors that increase suspicion of thyroid cancer include family history and a history of radiation treatment to the head or neck, Dr. Sood says.
A fatty cyst or abscess
These may be red, hot, or tender and appear under the skin on your neck, says Jeffrey Fromowitz, MD, FAAD, a dermatologist in Boca Raton, Florida. “They may feel hard or squishy like Jello in a balloon,” he says.
What to do: “Call your dermatologist, as cysts or abscesses may need to be drained, and if there is an infection, you may need a course of antibiotics,” he says. “You can apply hot compresses to the area to bring it to a head so it drains on its own.” Warning: “There may be a stinky odor,” he says. Check out these explanations for boils, cysts, in-grown hairs, and 11 other skin mysteries.
A skin tag
Skin tags are small, fleshy growths that are usually connected to the skin by a thin stalk. They are common and benign, Dr. Fromowitz says.
What to do: “Your dermatologist can snip, freeze, or melt away skin tags,” he says. Do not attempt to remove them by yourself at home. DIY home remedies that involve tying off the skin tag can cause significant bleeding. Stop believing these 10 myths about skin tags.
Raised seborrheic keratosis (SK)
Seborrheic keratoses (SKs) can turn up on your neck or face—but they’re not worrisome, says Dr. Fromowitz. They can be tan, brown, or black and tend to have a waxy, stuck-on-the-skin look, according to the American Academy of Dermatology.
What to do: Check in with your dermatologist to make sure the lesion is an SK. There are several treatments available if you are bothered by these growths, such as freezing, shaving, or laser therapy. A new in-office treatment, called ESKATA, is a game changer, Dr. Fromowitz says. “It typically involves two applications of hydrogen peroxide, and we see great success without any scarring or hyperpigmentation.” Check out terrible skin-care advice dermatologists wish you’d stop following.
Yup, you can get acne on your neck, too, Dr. Fromowitz warns. “Unlike cysts and abscesses, acne can occur in and above the skin, so you will see it on the skin surface.”
What to do: “We treat neck acne more delicately than facial acne, as the neck can get more irritated,” he says. Your dermatologist will suggest an appropriate regimen. Find out how to treat every type of acne.
Skin allergies aren’t like regular allergies: They turn up unexpectedly and are caused by a lot of weird things. If the skin on your neck comes into contact with an irritating smell or agent, you may develop a skin allergy, Dr. Fromowitz says. “This often occurs from fragrances or harsh detergents, soap, or even certain fabrics,” he says.
What to do: Contact dermatitis typically occurs in people with sensitive skin. “If you have sensitive skin or are eczema-prone, stick to all-cotton clothing and use All Free and Clear or Dreft detergent when doing laundry,” he advises. Don’t believe these 13 skin allergy myths.
It’s important to cover all exposed skin with sunscreen, and this includes your neck. “If you are taking medication that increases sun sensitivity, you may be more likely to have a reaction to the sun’s rays,” Dr. Fromowitz says.
What to do: Don’t forget your neck when you apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen of SPF 30 or above. Make sure you are aware of any medication side effects, and take extra precautions, he says. Check out these 13 sunscreens that dermatologists use themselves.
This condition causes red, itchy, inflamed skin, and it can target your neck as well as the rest of the body.
What to do: See a dermatologist to make sure it is eczema and not a look-alike such as psoriasis, Dr. Fromowitz says. Judicious use of a moisturizer can help you avoid flare-ups; you may sometimes need topical steroid creams or other medications to rein in the inflammation. Wondering what the best eczema cream is for your type? We’ve got you covered—just refer to our expert-approved eczema creams for all types.
Marked by red, scaly patches, psoriasis can appear on the back of the scalp or neck, Dr. Fromowitz says.
What to do: Psoriasis is an inflammatory disease, and a growing body of evidence suggests that it is linked to a host of systemic illnesses, including heart disease, diabetes, and certain cancers. There are many treatments available that doctors can tailor to the severity of your psoriasis—including drugs that modulate your immune system and put the brakes on inflammation at a cellular level, he says. Learn more about the newest psoriasis treatments.
Skin cancer can occur anywhere on the body, and your neck is no exception. “Skin cancers may bleed, itch, or cause pain, and they tend to change with time,” Dr. Fromowitz says.
What to do: See your doctor for an annual full-body skin check—and schedule a visit if you notice something that doesn’t look right. “Early diagnosis and treatment make everything easier,” he says. “Ignorance is not bliss.” Don’t ignore these signs of skin cancer.
Catching abnormal moles early and having them removed can be lifesaving. Memorize the ABCs of melanoma, the potentially fatal form of skin cancer:
- A is for ASYMMETRY.
- B is for BORDER. Melanomas tend to have ragged edges.
- C is for COLOR. Melanomas are multicolored.
- D is for DIAMETER. A melanoma is typically about a quarter inch.
- E is for EVOLVING.
Courtesy Aclaris Therapeutics, Inc.
A condition called acanthosis nigricans (AN) is marked by dark, thick skin on the sides or back of the neck (among other body parts), and it can be a warning sign of diabetes, Dr. Fromowitz says. “The neck can tell us a lot about what is going on in the body.”
What to do: Shedding pounds if you are overweight, eating a healthy diet, and engaging in regular physical activity can lower your risk for developing full-blown diabetes. Talk to your doctor to get a handle on what is going on, and come up with a risk-reduction or treatment plan stat. Find out the 10 lifesaving things you must do if you have diabetes.
We tend to neglect the neck, says Melissa Kanchanapoomi Levin, MD, a dermatologist in New York City and founder of Entière Dermatology. This is unfortunate because the skin on the neck is one of the first areas to show age. “Since the skin on the neck is thinner than on the face, with less naturally occurring [oil] compared to the face, the skin is susceptible to irritation, dryness, and early wrinkling,” she says. Make sure you read these antiaging secrets dermatologists won’t tell you for free.
What to do: Moisturize with smart skin-care ingredients such as peptides or small proteins that send targeted messages to the skin, she says. “Alastin Restorative Neck Complex [can] address wrinkling and skin tone on the neck due to a combination of peptides and potent antioxidants. This combination supports the production of new collagen and elastin, which are the building blocks of healthy skin; neutralizes further damage to the skin; and improves tone, texture, and repairs signs of aging,” she says. “Of course, sunscreen needs to be extended down from the face to the neck.” Now check out 42 strange symptoms that can be signs of a serious disease.