Why is my baby rubbing ear and side of head?

Dr Lyndsey Garbi
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If you've ever noticed your baby rubbing her ear or the side of her head, you may have wondered what the heck is going on?  Is she just scratching an itch, or could there be something else more serious?

Let's take a closer look at some of the possible reasons why your baby might be rubbing or pulling their ear:

  1. If your baby is rubbing their ear, but does not appear to be in pain or discomfort it’s likely she is trying to soothe herself.  Babies love routines and familiar things (including their own body parts), so rubbing her ear or head might be a way for her to self-soothe and feel comforted. This can be especially true if he's tired or feeling overwhelmed. If you think this might be the case, try offering him a pacifier or toy to help her calm down.
  2. If your baby is also crying or appears in pain this could be due to an ear infection, teething pain, or even a cold. If you think this might be the case, check for other signs of pain such as crying, fussiness, or difficulty sleeping. If you're unsure, it's always best to err on the side of caution and take your baby to see her pediatrician.
  3. Lastly it might be a sign that she is overtired or that their ears are blocked with ear wax. If it’s tiredness their ear pulling or ear grabbing is often accompanied by frequent yawning or clinginess.

What does an ear infection look like?

Ear infections are common in babies and young children, and can sometimes be the culprit behind why your baby is rubbing their ear.  Ear infections happen when there is fluid in the middle ear (the space behind the eardrum), and can cause pain, fever, irritability, and difficulty sleeping. If you think your baby might have an ear infection, you have a couple options:

  1. You can take your child to a pediatrician in-person.
  2. You can use a home otoscope (ear scope) to evaluate your child's ear and see if there is any redness or bulging of the eardrum.

If you are a Blueberry 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, ear tugging, past history of ear infections, and whether there is any fluid or wax buildup.

Why are my child's ears so waxy?  

Ear wax is a natural substance produced by the body to protect the ear from dirt, dust, and other potential irritants. While a small amount of ear wax is normal, too much can build up and cause problems such as hearing loss, ear pain, and itchiness. If you notice an excessive build up, you may need to take your child to a pediatrician who can remove it.

Do babies rub ears when teething?

The simple answer is, yes! It's not uncommon for babies to rub their ears when they are teething. This is because as the teeth start to come in, there can be pressure and pain in the gums and jaw which can radiate to the ears. If you think your baby might be teething, in addition to ear rubbing, you might also notice other signs such as increased drooling, biting or gnawing on objects, and irritability. If you're curious about how evaluate teething vs an ear infection you can find a detailed breakdown in our article "Baby Ear Infection vs Teething - Everything You Need To Know!".

Should I be worried about a baby pulling on ear?

If you've ever noticed your baby rubbing their ear and side of head, ear tugging, or ear pulling you are not alone. It's actually a pretty common thing for babies to do. While there are a few different possible explanations, the most likely ones are that she’s either trying to relieve some pain or discomfort, or that she’s trying to soothe herself. If your baby is crying, running a fever, or seems to be experiencing ear pain, it's always best to consult with your child's pediatrician.

Have questions about ear tugging, ear pulling, or a possible ear infection? You can contact a Blueberry pediatrician 24/7, day or night! The best part? An entire year of Blueberry membership costs less than the typical copay of a single urgent care visit!