Baby Ear Infection vs. Teething: How to Spot the Difference

Baby Ear Infection vs. Teething: How to Spot the Difference

So your little one is cranky.

They’re pushing their food away, waking up 20 minutes into naptime, and letting you know that it’s not ok to put them down.

What’s the matter?

If your little one is ticking all these boxes, it’s common to assume that they’re teething.

But second place on the list of possible issues is often an ear infection.

So now we’re in the territory of the age-old question: baby ear infection vs. teething?

If you’re asking yourself How do I know if my baby has an ear infection or teething?, you’ve come to the right place.

Here are some of the ways you might be able to tell the difference between a baby ear infection and teething symptoms.

In this article: 📝

  • How do I know if my baby has an ear infection or teething?
  • Can babies get ear infections while teething?
  • Is ear pain from teething or ear infection?
  • Ear infection vs. teething: Shared symptoms
  • Classic ear infection symptoms
  • What should I do if my baby has an ear infection?
  • What should I do if my baby is teething?

How do I know if my baby has an ear infection or teething?

Everything in your baby’s face is connected.

If one part hurts (say, their gums) another part (say, their ears) hurts as well.

And because they can’t really tell you what’s wrong, it can be difficult for parents to get to the bottom of the problem.

With the teething vs. ear infection question, things are even more complicated.

You might assume that your baby’s fussiness is related to some new little teeth taking the stage, but you won’t know for sure until you can see them.

Sometimes teething symptoms can start a week or two before you see the teeth.

That’s a long time to wait for confirmation.

As well as needing to cut a lot of teeth, babies get a lot of ear infections.

The vast majority of kids will pick one up (and be completely fine again) by the time they turn three.

The tubes in their ears are small and it’s easy for fluid to get trapped behind their eardrum. There’s also not a lot you can do to prevent ear infections.

It’s just something they need to grow out of.

Can babies get ear infections while teething?

Although teething pain and ear pain are linked, teething doesn’t cause ear infections.

The thing that’s most likely to cause an ear infection is actually the common cold.

And the chances are that your baby is going to encounter that more than a few times before all their teeth come through.

If your baby is experiencing symptoms such as fussiness, ear pulling, fever, or difficulty sleeping, it’s important to consult a pediatrician to determine whether the cause is teething or an ear infection.

Is ear pain from teething or ear infection?

As a concerned mom, it can be difficult to tell the difference between ear pain caused by teething or an ear infection.

Both conditions can cause discomfort and distress for your little one, but there are some key differences to watch out for.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, some common signs of an ear infection in babies include ear pain or pulling, fever, irritability, difficulty sleeping, and a loss of appetite.

On the other hand, teething-related ear pain is often characterized by mild discomfort or aching in the ears, as well as increased drooling, gum irritation, and the desire to chew on objects to alleviate the discomfort.

It’s important to remember that teething and ear infections are two separate conditions that can sometimes occur at the same time.

If your baby is experiencing ear pain or other symptoms, it’s important to consult with a pediatrician to determine the cause and appropriate treatment.

In some cases, a doctor may recommend a course of antibiotics to treat an ear infection, while in other cases, teething remedies like teething rings or infant pain relievers might work better for your little biter.


Ear infection vs. teething: Shared symptoms

While teething isn’t usually responsible for an ear infection, some of the symptoms definitely overlap.

Do any of these sound familiar?

  • Fussiness, crankiness, grouchiness, grizzling – whatever you call a baby who’s having a really bad day
  • Clinginess
  • Loss of appetite
  • Trouble falling asleep at their normal times, or trouble staying asleep
  • A little bit more drool and mucus than you’re used to.
  • And then there’s the classic: pulling their ears.

You might have heard that teething and ear-pulling go hand in hand.

But the truth is that most babies have an ear-tugging phase, and it often has nothing to do with their teeth.

There’s something attached to the side of their head!

It’s kind of stretchy!

Ears are so interesting they might even try to get their fingers inside yours from time to time.

But they do also tug on their ears if they’re teething, because it helps to relieve the pushing feeling under their gums.

And they also tug on their ears if they have an ear infection, because it makes the pain and pressure go away.

So if you’re seeing any of these ambiguous symptoms, how are you supposed to know what’s causing them?

Classic ear infection symptoms

Here’s the easiest way to tell the difference: in young children, an ear infection is almost always accompanied by a high fever.

A lot of people say that teething causes a fever.

And for some babies, there’s definitely a pattern.

The difference between a teething fever and a fever response to an infection, though, is that teething fevers are usually low-grade and short-lived.

An ear infection fever will probably be a lot higher and quite stubborn to treat.

So, whereas a teething baby might have a slight fever at bedtime, a baby with an ear infection might need fever medicine for a few days, because their temperature keeps rising again when one dose wears off.

A note on fever and young babies: If your baby is younger than three months and has any fever over 100.4°F (38°C), take them to the doctor immediately.

Between three and six months, the number to watch for is 102.2°F (39°C).

And, as always, go with your gut.

You know your baby best.

Other common ear infection symptoms

  • Fluid draining from their ear (although this doesn’t always happen, especially at the beginning of the infection). This usually means the eardrum has burst. This isn’t as dramatic as it sounds – it will heal, and it will actually relieve quite a lot of your little one’s pain.
  • Difficulty hearing or responding to sounds that they normally respond to.
  • Loss of balance (in older, more mobile babies).
  • Vomiting.
  • Lack of energy or interest in the things they normally like.
  • Their symptoms and discomfort get worse when they’re lying down.

But the only way to know for sure that your little one has an ear infection is to take them to their doctor.

They’ll then be able to look inside your baby’s ear with a small torch for signs of redness and infection.

What should I do if my baby has an ear infection?

First things first: it’s best to keep their ears dry, and you definitely should not try to clean them with a cotton bud, even if there’s visible fluid.

At home, you can treat a fever with age-appropriate doses of children’s acetaminophen or ibuprofen.

Let them rest, and make sure that they’re well hydrated.

But if your little one has been unwell for longer than two days, and isn’t getting better on their own, it’s always best to see their doctor about an ear infection.

There’s a high chance that they’ll prescribe antibiotics.

And they’ll be able to give you further advice about the best way to manage your little one’s pain and fever.

Within a week or so, they should be back to their normal self.

What should I do if my baby is teething?

Oof. Teething can be a difficult time for both babies and mamas alike.

While it’s normal for your little one to experience some discomfort during the teething process, there are some teething remedies you can do to help ease the pain and keep your baby comfortable.

Here are some tried and tested tips on teething from our Peanut Community:

  • Try a teething ring that’s been in the fridge or freezer ‒ the cool sensation will help soothe baby’s gums.
  • Over-the-counter infant pain relievers such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen can also work, but it’s worth checking with your doctor first.
  • If baby is weaning, cold fruit and veg can be great for them to gnaw on (with supervision, of course).
  • Teething gel can also work for some babies.
  • If baby’s still drinking breast milk or formula, how about a baby popsicle?

Let’s face it, being a mama can be tough, but knowing the difference between baby ear infections vs. teething can help you be a total badass when it comes to taking care of your babe.

Remember, don’t be afraid to reach out to your pediatrician if you want some more individual advice ‒ that’s what they’re there for!

In the end, we’re all just trying to do our best for our babes, and that’s what matters most.

So keep at it, mama, and don’t let the battle of “baby ear infection vs teething” confusion bring you down.

You got this!

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