Baby Ear Infection vs Teething - Everything You Need To Know!

Dr. Lyndsey Garbi
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It can be tough to tell what’s causing your baby’s discomfort. Is it an ear infection? Or teething? There are a few key differences between the two that can help you figure it out. Here’s what you need to know.

Firstly, what is an ear infection?

Many parents have to deal with the reality of their child having an ear infection. An ear infection is a condition where fluid and bacteria build up in the middle ear, causing pain and irritation. Ear infections are most common in young children, as their immune systems are not yet fully developed. About 20% of children will get frequent ear infections.

There are many different causes of ear infections. Below are three most common reasons:

  1. The most common cause is a cold or upper respiratory infection. When a child has a cold, the virus can travel to the middle ear and cause inflammation.
  2. Bacteria is also a common cause of ear infections. Bacteria, such as streptococcus pneumoniae and haemophilus influenzae are two of the most common bacteria that require antibiotics. Usually a viral infection creates a nidus for the infection by causing inflammation and irritation in the area.  
  3. Another common cause of ear infections is bottle-feeding while laying down. he formula can pool in the back of their throat and enter the eustachian tubes. The liquid then becomes a place for bacteria to grow causing an infection.

Ear Infection Symptoms:

The most common symptom of an ear infection is pain. Children may also have trouble sleeping, be irritable, have trouble hearing, or experience a loss of balance. If your child has ear pain and a temperature over 100.4, you should speak with a pediatrician to have an ear exam done and determine if antibiotics are needed.You can contact your Blueberry Pediatrician anytime of the day or night about an ear infection. We’ll also send you an Otoscope (ear scope) to ensure our doctors have a good visual of your child’s ear.

Other common symptoms of an ear infection:

The pulling or rubbing of the ear is usually what causes confusion as it’s a sign of teething.

What does an ear infection look like?

The Blueberry otoscope can help identify whether it's an ear infection vs teething pain

If you’re unsure whether your child has an ear infection, you can use an otoscope (ear scope) to look in your child’s ear and see if there is any redness or bulging of the eardrum. It's important to be careful and check in with you pediatrician around using an otoscope, as your baby's ear can be very sensitive. Jiggling the otoscope or inserting it too far into the ear canal can cause pain.

What to look our for when using an otoscope:

If you see any of these things, it’s best to contact your pediatrician so they can prescribe antibiotics if needed. When you join Blueberry we'll send you an otoscope. As a member you can simply use the otoscope and Blueberry app to take a video of your child's ear and our pediatricians will be able to quickly share back whether you baby has an ear infection, as well as next steps. We'll also ask you questions around your child's symptoms such as ear pulling, swollen gums, teething pain, fever and more. All of this can be done from the comfort of your home!

What is teething?

Teething is the process of a baby's first teeth coming through the gums. It usually starts around 6 months old, but can happen as early as 3 months or as late as 12 months. Some babies have no symptoms at all, while others may be cranky and drool.

Signs your baby is teething (teething symptoms):

The most common sign of teething is increased drooling. You may also notice your baby chew on their fingers, toys, or other objects more than usual. Other signs that your baby may be teething include:

How to help a teething baby:

If your teething baby seems uncomfortable, consider these simple tips:

  1. You can gently rub your baby's swollen or sore gums.
  2. You can try teething rings.
  3. Another known remedy is to use a cold spoon and gently rub the gums. Just make sure the spoon isn't too cold. 30 minutes in the fridge should do the trick!

What are teething rings?

Teething rings are small, firm, plastic or rubber rings that babies can gnaw on. They are safe for your baby to teeth on and can help relieve teething pain. You can find them at most stores that sell baby products.

If your baby is teething and you're not sure what to do, contact your Blueberry Pediatrician. We can help you figure out the best way to relieve your baby's pain.

How to treat an ear infection:

One of the most important things you can do is to make sure that your child stays hydrated. This means giving her plenty of fluids to drink, and making sure that she urinates frequently. You can also give her over-the-counter pain relievers such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen to help with the pain.

If your child's ear infection does not seem to be improving after a few days of home treatment, if she develops a fever, or the fever isn’t going away it is important to see a doctor. Your Blueberry doctor may prescribe antibiotics to help clear the infection. In some cases, a doctor may also recommend that your child have ear tubes placed. This is a small surgery that is done under general anesthesia and is usually successful in treating and preventing ear infections if they're chronic.

Another common question we get is - Can teething cause ear infections?

While teething does not directly lead to baby ear infections, it’s possible it has an indirect effect. This is because when a baby drools excessively during teething, the moisture can collect in their ear canal and create an ideal environment for bacteria to grow. So if your little one seems to be in a lot of pain while teething, it's worth keeping an eye out for any signs of an ear infection (such as fussiness, rubbing their ear, or fluid drainage from the ear). Of course, if you're ever concerned about your child's health, be sure to consult with your Blueberry pediatrician.

Teething vs ear infection

As we've learned, if you’re not sure whether your baby’s has an ear infection or is just teething, there are a few key differences to look out for. Signs that your baby may have an ear infection include pulling or rubbing at their ear(s), trouble sleeping or being irritable when lying down, and drainage from their ear(s). On the other hand, common signs of teething include increased drooling, chewing on fingers or toys more than usual, and swelling or redness around the gumline. If you’re still unsure, don’t hesitate to contact your PCP or Blueberry pediatrician for further guidance.