Baby Ear Infection Vs Teething (How To Tell The Difference)

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Babies don’t talk. We wish they did. So they could save us all the stress of trying to figure out what is happening to them. Sadly, we have to guess if the crying, ear pulling, and fussiness mean an ear infection or teething.

Image of baby ear infection vs teething

These two conditions have many related symptoms and can be quite confusing. Almost every mom has worried about this at some point. We included some real moms’ experiences and how they managed it. 

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Baby Ear Infection Or Teething? This Is The Difference

A teething baby will drool and chew on anything. They may have a raised temperature, but not a fever. Their stool may be loose and look like diarrhea. You may even notice that they have chapped skin or teething rash.

However, if your baby tugs their ear and cries when you lay them down, it may be an ear infection. They could also drool a little, have poor balance, and even find it difficult to sleep.

Read on to know how well to manage your baby if they have any of these conditions. 

Photo of a crying baby. Babies could cry due to baby ear infection or teething

Shared Symptoms Of Teething And Ear Infection

Teething and ear infections usually have some symptoms in common. This is why you worry if your baby has an ear infection when it may be teething. These symptoms are:

  • Pulling their ears
  • Fussiness, grizzling, or acting as though they are having a bad day
  • Loss of appetite
  • Clinginess
  • Drooling or producing a little more mucus than before
  • Difficulty falling asleep at the regular sleep time
  • Difficulty staying asleep

Pulling the ears is the most common symptom of ear infection and teething. But even kids who are not going through any of these conditions still tug their ears.

They find the ear interesting and love to drag it since it’s stretchy. It is a way of exploring themselves. You may notice that your baby tries to put their hands into your ears too. It is still part of the exploration.

When teething starts, tugging the ears goes past being fun to a form of relief. Babies feel a pushing sensation under their gums when they are trying to erupt teeth. Tugging the ears helps them relieve this sensation. 

Tugging the ears also relieves them of the pain and pressure they feel during an ear infection. So, ear tugging is quite an ambiguous symptom. That is why you must look for other symptoms. Above all, contact your pediatrician for the best diagnosis. 

How To Tell If Baby Has Ear Infection Or Teething

The following are the specific symptoms of ear infection and teething. 

Symptoms Of Ear Infection

Photo of a baby. Babies could feel uncomfortable due to baby ear infection or teething
  • Ear pain

Your baby will cry more and tug their ears when they experience pain from an ear infection. They may also act more fussy or irritable than usual.  It is easier to identify this pain in toddlers. They can tell you how they feel or make signs. 

  • Fever

Your baby’s temperature may rise to within 38 ºC (100 ºF) to 40 ºC (104 ºF) when they have an ear infection. Fever is associated with 50% of ear infection cases in babies.

  • Difficulty sleeping

Ear infection makes it difficult for a child to fall asleep or sleep deeply for a long time. This is because they feel more intense pressure in the affected ear when they lie down. 

  • Loss of appetite

You may notice this more in bottle-feeding babies. Babies find it difficult to swallow when they feel pressure in their middle ear. This makes feeding more painful and desirable.

  • Ear discharge

You may notice white, brown, or yellow fluid come out from your child’s ears when they sleep. This discharge is different from earwax and may mean that the war drum has broken or ruptured.

  • Poor balance

Some kids may fall more or lean to the affected side when they sit if they have an ear infection. This is not strange as the ear is the organ for balance in the body. When it is infected, some level of balance may be lost.

See Ali’s Experience When Her Baby Had An Ear Infection

Ali Van Straten is a mom blogger from Everything Baby Showers and Champagne and Coffee Stains. This is how she differentiates between an ear infection and teething. 

“I’ve learned that when my kids have an ear infection, they tend to be a little more wobbly and off-balanced than usual (falling down even more often, leaning to one side when sitting) as well as cry really intensely during diaper changes. When my kids are teething, they seem to just be more fussy than usual but it’s able to be relieved by offering a chew toy. With ear infections, chew toys and distractions don’t work.”

How Pediatricians Diagnose Ear Infection

Your child’s pediatrician will use an otoscope to examine your child’s ear. This instrument will reveal the state of the eardrum. If it is swollen, inflamed, or red, it means that there is an infection. 

The pediatrician will also use a pneumatic otoscope to blow some amount of air into the baby’s ear to see how the eardrum will move. The ear drum will not easily move if there is some fluid inside the ear. 

Signs Of Teething

Photo of a happy baby.
  • Excessive drooling

This is the easiest way to know whether your baby is teething or having an ear infection. Though babies drool a little when they have an ear infection, they drool more when they are teething. 

The baby produces more saliva when teething to soften and lubricate the gums. However, they do not develop enough mouth muscles at this time to control the saliva. That is why they drool when teething.

Alison also noticed this excessive drooling in teething babies

Allison Banfield is the Content Manager and Founder of ProudHappyMama. She said:

“The easiest way to determine whether your fussy baby is teething or has an ear infection is the drool. You’ll probably know how much your baby typically drools, and if they start drooling a lot more and wanting to bite on things, then they’re probably teething.” 

  • Red swollen gums

The gum area where your baby’s teeth want to erupt may be red, swollen, and tender. This can be a bit painful for them when you touch them. This is one of the surest signs that your baby is teething.

  • Teething rash

Some small, red, and bumpy rashes may appear on your baby’s face, neck or chest when they are teething. In fact, these rashes can come and go several times while they are teething.

These rashes can occur because of the extra drool that stays on your baby’s body. This saliva may house bacteria on the baby’s skin, thereby causing the rashes. 

  • Gnawing on things

Your baby may try to use their gums to bite on everything when they are teething. This creates a counter pressure that relieves the pressure from the emerging teeth under their gums.

Hence, your baby may bite on your fingers or nipples while they feed. 

  • Crankiness

Crying is one way your baby uses to communicate their pain. The way a baby cries differs based on their needs. But one thing is common, a baby will stop crying after you care for the cause of their tears.

However, if your baby cries after you have fed them, put them to sleep, and done every other thing that they could need, it could be a sign of teething. Teething gives babies some discomfort, and it could make them feel unsettled.

  • Ear pulling and cheek rubbing

When teething, the pain from their gums may travel to their ears and cheeks, which is why they rub these areas for relief. This ear pulling is also called ear tugging, and it can also be a sign of an ear infection. However, the pull alongside other signs of teething will less likely be an infection. 

Another way you can tell if your baby has some kind of ear infection is that their ears will probably be warm to the touch and their neck might be swollen.

  • Mild temperature raise

Your baby shouldn’t have a fever when they teeth, but there may be slight changes in their body temperature. It could go a bit high today and low tomorrow. This temperature fluctuation is more common on the days after the new tooth erupts. 

You may notice that your child’s stool becomes loose when teething like they are having diarrhea. This could be caused by the increased amount of saliva they produce. 

However, talk to your baby’s pediatrician when your baby has diarrhea that is accompanied by high fever or vomiting.  

Photo of a cute baby

How To Relieve Ear Pain From Infection

Your child’s pediatrician will prescribe some over-the-counter pain relief medications that you can use for your baby. But the following home remedies can further add to the relief:

  • Apply a warm compress on the affected ear for about 10 to 15 minutes to reduce the pain
  • Elevate your child’s head when they sleep to relieve the pain and drain the sinus. Put a pillow under their mattress (not directly under their head). This will elevate their head naturally.
  • Give your child enough food and water to prevent dehydration
  • Allow your baby to rest and sleep as much as they like

See how Dani Davidson relieves ear infections in her babies

Dani Davidson is a mum of three beautiful children and a blogger at Play Inspired Mom. She said:

“Ear infections typically have a sudden onset and present with high temperatures that are challenging to manage with over-the-counter pain relief. My first attempt to offer relief is panadol followed by Nurofen. If temps are consistently high or cannot be bought down with these then we are off to the doctor. 

To help relieve the pressure, giving them a wooden whistle has certainly raised their spirits ( as you can imagine a whistle isn’t something they play with every day) while also balancing their ears.” 

How To Relieve Pain From Teething

If you suspect that your child is teething, do the following: 

  • Consult your baby’s pediatrician to know whether your child needs a painkiller. If they do, give them the right dose of painkillers for their weight.
  • Use a soft towel to clean the excess drool from the baby’s face and body
  • Apply Vaseline on any chapped area to soothe it
  • Give your baby a clean and cold and wet washcloth to chew. You can also give your baby frozen fruits like bananas to chew.
  • Cool your baby’s teething toys in the fridge and give them to chew
  • Give your child a hard teething biscuit if they eat solids.

Dani Davidson’s tips for relieving pain from teething

Dani, the mom of three and blogger at Play Inspired Mum says:

“My children have all had flushed dry cheeks, general irritability, and need to be held close when teething. Face washers that have been wet and frozen have always been welcomed as well as cool metal spoons. Homemade frozen fruit pops are another way to get coolness onto swollen gums. To help with the dryness of their cheeks, moisturizer is applied regularly and we avoid acidic foods. Before having children I never understood the reason for amber necklaces, however, all three have worn them and I swear by them!”

Baby Ear Infection Treatment

The treatment for ear infections in children depends on their age, temperature, and severity of the condition. The healthcare provider may ask you to wait for about three days to see if a mild infection will clear up on its own. If it persists, he or she will then administer some antibiotics.

If the infection is severe, the healthcare provider may prescribe antibiotics immediately.

The pediatrician will also prescribe some over-the-counter pain-relieving medications for your baby. Don’t use any other pain relief medication besides the one that the doctor prescribes. Avoid aspirin, it can cause Reye’s syndrome, a life-threatening condition.


Is drooling a sign of ear infection in babies?

Your baby may drool when they have an ear infection, but it will be very minimal. Drooling alone is not a sign of ear infection, but teething. So, if your baby drools much, it could be that they are teething. However, look for other signs of teething or ear infection to be more precise. 

Do babies tug or pull their ears when teething?

Teething may make your baby tug their ear like they have an ear infection, but it doesn’t cause an ear infection. Though it is possible for a child to develop an ear infection when the child is teething, it doesn’t mean that the infection is caused by teething.

Still Don’t Know Whether Your Baby Is Teething Or Having An Ear Infection? 

All babies do not have the exact symptoms of teething and ear infection. If you are still not clear about what is happening to your child, follow Dr. Staci’s advice.

Dr. Staci Holweger, the Founder and doctor of Regenerative medicine at Lifepatches. She said:

“As a mother, you want to protect your baby from harm. It’s difficult to keep track of all the symptoms your baby has. The first thing to do is keep them in a comfortable and sterilized environment. If you’re worried about teething, you can freeze teething rings, put a cool washcloth on their gums, or give them a frozen banana to chew. The best way to know if your baby has an ear infection is to check their ear for redness, tenderness, and swelling. If you notice a lot of redness, it’s best to take them to the doctor!”

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