Bump on the Head: Causes and When to See a Doctor

By Terez Malka, MD
Medically reviewed checkmarkMedically reviewed
May 29, 2020

A bump is any size of lump, protrusion, puffiness, or localized swelling either under or on top of the skin of your head. Many head bumps are caused by a direct injury or force, though some can form without prior trauma to the area, such cysts, infections, or bone spurs. Mild head bumps likely heal on their own, however, a severe head injury, a head bump with significant symptoms, or a concussion are all reasons to talk to a doctor sooner rather than later.

What Is This Bump on My Head?

With a bump on your head, you may experience swelling, puffiness, and/or pain or tenderness in one specific spot. Many bumps occur after a head injury, like a fall or a car accident, and involve trauma to the affected area. In these instances, it’s usually clear what the cause of swelling beneath the skin on the head may be. However, other head bumps can arise due to underlying conditions or diseases.

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What causes bumps or lumps on the scalp, head, or forehead?

There are many different causes of bumps on the head, depending on where the head bump swelling occurs and its severity. Most head bumps are caused by one or more the following:

  • Acne: Acne is caused by a buildup of oil on the scalp, skin bacteria, or hormone fluctuations and causes small red, skin-colored, or white bumps on the skin’s surface or deep lumps beneath the skin’s surface. While it’s most common among teenagers, it can affect those of all ages. Acne can appear on the forehead, around the scalp or head, as well as all over the body. Acne is painless for some, while others may experience tenderness or itching.
  • Injury or trauma: A head injury can result in swelling or a painful lump on the affected area of the head—also known as a bruise, contusion, or hematoma. These often begin as a small bump and become more tender and swollen in the following days. If a small, painful bump is your only symptom, this will likely resolve on its own. If a head injury is accompanied by other symptoms such as severe headache, loss of consciousness, repeated vomiting, vision changes, or severe neck pain, this requires medical evaluation.
  • Bone spur: A bone spur (also known as exostosis), is an overgrowth of bone around a joint, usually seen on the neck or back of the head. These typically appear in those with osteoporosis or arthritis, but can also form whenever there’s extra pressure on a spinal joint (such as at the base of the head). Bones spurs create a hard, bony, mass, and may be painless, but can be uncomfortable.
  • Cyst: Cysts are sacs under the skin filled with fluid or air. They can grow almost anywhere around the body or under the skin, and are common on the forehead, face, and scalp. They usually appear yellow, white, or skin-colored, but can become red, inflamed, and/or warm to the touch if irritated or infected.
  • Folliculitis: Folliculitis is a common skin condition where the hairs follicles become inflamed. These follicles then turn into pus-filled, pimple-like bumps that can become itchy, red, sore, and swollen.
  • Insect bite or sting: If an insect, such as a mosquito or bee, bites or stings your head, the area can turn into a swollen and uncomfortable bump. Bug bite bumps can vary in size, shape, and color depending upon the insect, environment, and the skin’s reaction.
  • Lipoma: A lipoma is a fatty tissue growth under the skin that’s usually soft or rubbery to the touch. They’re fairly common, though most commonly seen in those around 40-60 years of age. Lipomas can form anywhere on the body, including the forehead, back of the head, or the neck. They may or may not feel painful, depending on their proximity to a nerve.
  • Sinusitis: A severe sinus infection, also called sinusitis, can cause swelling of the forehead, eyelids, between the eyes, and over the bridge of the nose. This condition is called “Pott’s Puffy Tumor,” but it is not a tumor or cancer. While most sinus infections simply cause pressure around the sinuses, severe cases could result in head swelling. This condition requires medical imaging and IV antibiotics.
  • Tumor: While very rare, a bump on the skull can be a tumor. Many of these types of tumors are benign, but may be cancerous in rare cases.

Symptoms That Occur With Bumps on the Head

Bumps on or around the head usually come with accompanying symptoms, which vary depending on their cause. You may notice one or more of the following symptoms around the affected areas:

  • Redness
  • Swelling
  • Tenderness
  • Itching
  • Bruising
  • Warmth to the touch
  • Drainage
  • Hair loss

More serious symptoms may be seen along with concussions or underlying conditions and diseases including:

Any of these symptoms should be evaluated by a healthcare professional.

Diagnosing a Bump on the Head

Many head bumps are minor, such as those from acne, insect bites, an inflamed hair follicle, or a minor injury, and don’t require a specific diagnosis from a medical professional. If you decide to contact your doctor about a bump on your head, they will be able to diagnose it by asking questions and performing a physical exam.

In rare cases, such as those with suspected tumors, a doctor may order specific testing (such as neurological and imaging exams) to diagnose the bump on your head.

Treatment for a Bump on the Head

The way you treat bumps on your head, forehead, and surrounding areas depends greatly on their location, severity, underlying cause. You will need to narrow down the cause of your head bump to figure out which type of treatment is best for you.

Some types of head bumps (like cysts and lipoma) can be removed by a surgeon if they grow larger, begin obstructing or causing pressure to other parts of the body, or cause cosmetic distress. These, as well as some skin conditions like acne and folliculitis, may require a specialist such as a dermatologist.

Treatments for minor head bumps mainly work to reduce the pain, inflammation, or irritation involved with the bump or its surrounding area. You may want to try the following treatments on your own to find one that works for you, depending on the cause of your head bump:

  • Over-the-counter (OTC) pain-reducing medication: You may take acetaminophen (Tylenol) and/or ibuprofen (advil, motrin) or other OTC pain medications to reduce the pain associated with your head bump.
  • Rest: Take a break from strenuous activities and focus on getting more sleep in order to relieve pain and help your head bump heal more quickly. Avoid hairstyles, accessories, and hats, that place pressure or tension on the painful area.
  • Ice: Ice decreases inflammation, so is helpful at reducing pain and swelling for some head bumps, especially those caused by injuries.
  • Warm compress: Warm compresses may help with folliculitis and certain types of cysts.
  • Physical therapy: If a bone spur is causing the head bump, a physical therapist may be able to work with you to recommend pain-relieving and/or joint strengthening exercises.

If your head bump is moderate or severe, treatments may include the following:

  • Surgical removal of bump: Your doctor may discuss removing your head bump if it is causing significant discomfort, pressing on other structions, or for cosmetic reasons.
  • Prescription medications: A doctor may recommend treating head bumps that have become infected, such as severe folliculitis, with antibiotics. Other types of head bumps respond to antifungal medications or ointments.
  • Continued treatment as appropriate for tumors: If a doctor diagnoses your head bump as a tumor, further treatment will depend upon the type and location of the tumor. Additional treatment could include removal of the tumor, radiation therapy and/or chemotherapy.

Risk Factors and Complications

Bumps on or around the head are common and have a large variety of causes. Many will resolve on their own or with simple at-home treatment. There are no specific risk factors for head bumps, given the ride variety of causes.

Complications of head bumps include spreading, growth, or infection. If your head bump is due to acne or a cyst, picking at it can cause it to become infected. When a head bump is caused by trauma, complications may include a concussion or more serious brain injury. Any head bump caused by trauma that is accompanied by other symptoms should be discussed with a health care provider.

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When to See a Doctor

Not all bumps on the head require a doctor’s attention. Often the swelling, pain, or redness on or around the head will clear up on its own within a few days to a few weeks.

If you, or someone you’re caring for, experience any of the following symptoms coupled with a head bump—particularly right after the incident that caused the lump—it’s important to see a doctor immediately:

  • Loss of consciousness
  • Abnormal lethargy
  • Seizure
  • Confusion, or disorientation
  • Speech, hearing, or vision impairment
  • Weakness or numbness
  • Discharge coming from ears or nose
  • Difference in size of pupils
  • Repeated vomiting
  • Severe headache

These symptoms, in the case of an injury or accident, could indicate a brain injury, while in other cases may indicate an underlying mass or brain condition. These types of symptoms should prompt medical evaluation.

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K Health articles are all written and reviewed by MDs, PhDs, NPs, or PharmDs and are for informational purposes only. This information does not constitute and should not be relied on for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.

Terez Malka, MD

Dr. Terez Malka is a board-certified pediatrician and emergency medicine physician.

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