ear infection or teething

Is it an ear infection or teething?

It is common for parents to confuse teething and ear infections by the symptoms. A baby pulling at his ears can be a sign of either condition. We explain how you can tell the difference between the two and how to best work out if it is an ear infection or teething.

When your toddler starts tugging on his ear, you may assume that’s a sure sign of an ear infection. He might do the same thing, though, if he’s teething. Nerves in the back teeth branch out to the middle ear, so it can feel like his pain is coming from his ear. If he has a fever and seems to be most uncomfortable lying down, it’s more likely he has an ear infection. Read on to learn how to distinguish between the two.

Your child is unlikely to have an ear infection if:

  • No cold symptoms are present. If your child has some of the above symptoms but does not have a cold, an ear infection is less likely, unless your child has had an ear infection in the past without a cold.
  • There is pulling or batting at the ears in infants less than one year of age. Infants less than one are unable to precisely localise their ear pain. This means that they cannot tell that the pain is coming from the ear or from structures near the ear.

Infants can pull on or bat at their ears for two other common reasons:

1. Teething – Baby thinks the pain from sore gums is coming from the ears.

2. Because they like playing with their ears – Infants are fascinated with their ears. They love to explore them, play with them, and especially to stick their finger into that strange hole in the middle.

How are ear infections treated?

About half of all ear infections get better on their own without antibiotics. However, your doctor is more likely to prescribe antibiotics if:

  • Your baby is younger than three months
  • Your baby is three months or older and her symptoms have persisted for more than four days. Your doctor will explain whether and why your baby should have antibiotics. Many doctors are cautious about prescribing antibiotics because more and more bacteria are becoming resistant to them. As your baby gets older she is less likely to need antibiotics, as her immune system is stronger and able to fight infections more easily.

How can I comfort my baby?

Follow these steps to keep your baby comfortable and speed her recovery:

  • Make sure your baby gets plenty of rest.
  • If it is painful for your baby to eat or drink, give her small amounts regularly to keep her energy up and prevent her getting dehydrated.
  • You can give your baby a dose of infant paracetamol or ibuprofen suspension if she is three months or older. This will help to reduce her fever, and ease her pain and discomfort. Check the dosage information on the packet, or ask your doctor or pharmacist if you’re unsure about how much to give your baby.

Symptoms of an ear infection

  • Cold symptoms – keep in mind that ear infections are almost always preceded by a cold. Often a clear runny nose will turn yellow or green before an ear infection sets in.
  • Fussiness during the day or night
  • Complaining of ear pain or hearing loss ✓ Night-waking more frequently
  • Unwillingness to lie flat
  • Fever – usually low grade (101º – 102º); may not have a fever.
  • Sudden increase in fussiness during a cold
  • Ear drainage – if you see blood or pus draining out of the ear, then it is probably an infection with a ruptured eardrum. These almost always heal just fine, and once the eardrum ruptures the pain subsides.

Common teething symptoms:

  • Pain that usually starts at four months of age and will come and go until the two-year molars are in.
  • Tugging or digging at the ears with no cold symptoms or fever
  • Fussiness or night-waking with no cold symptoms or fever
  • May have low fever less than 38ºC.
  • Teething does not cause a runny nose, only drool.

Top tip

Red, swollen gums are a sign of teething. In general, the symptoms of ear infections could be described as a variety of illnesses — or a child who’s just having a bad day. He might push his food away, have trouble sleeping, or cry more than usual. But if your instincts tell you that there’s something wrong, especially if your child has a fever, it makes sense to have your doctor take a look.

More like this:

Treating baby’s high temperature
Soothing baby’s pain
Looking after baby’s teeth


Q. I’m would like to start an exercise programme that will benefit my emotional health as much as my physical health, but I don’t know which type of class would be best. Should I consider choosing from yoga, pilates, tai chi, or could you recommend a class, please?

A It’s great that you have decided to get into exercise. The benefits to you are going to be great. You’ll sleep better, have more energy, better skin, reduced stressed, not to mention all the amazing physical benefits of your clothes fitting better, and looking healthy, trim and toned! My advice to you would be to try them all. Even if some don’t offer pay-as-you-go sessions, if you get in touch directly with the instructor, they will almost always let you try it out first to see if it’s for you. All of the above things that you mentioned are great for mental health, so it really will be a personal preference as to which you go for. On top of the classes you mention, all forms of exercise will give you great mental rewards so consider the not so obvious interval training sessions, bootcamp, and circuits too, as you will also feel on top of the world after a class like that.


Ask Allison

Q My sister-in-law and I both work three-day weeks and we help each
other out with child minding on our working days, which up until recently has worked out really well. Between us, our kids are aged between five and nine years – the problem is that it’s now become quite apparent that we have very different parenting styles. I prefer my two daughters (seven and nine) to have a structured day. For example, in my house, we have allocated times for television and iPads, etc. My sister-in-law, however, lets the kids run loose after school – homework is ignored and my kids end up wired after eating sugary treats all afternoon. I am considering looking at after-school childcare for the kids, but I’m worried that this is going to cause a family argument. Is there a diplomatic way that I can ask my sister-in-law to introduce some discipline into her child-minding days? It certainly doesn’t do her two kids any harm when I am minding them in my own house!

In a word, no, there is no diplomatic way to do this as it may very likely seem like your saying that your parenting style is better than
hers. As L’Óreal says, ‘now here comes the science bit.’ Dr. Kaylene
Henderson, a child psychiatrist, wrote a very interesting blog about ‘the
science behind the Mummy Wars’. She explains that before she had
children of her own she hadn’t been aware of how parents have a
very specific sense of the right parenting style. She also found that parents could be very definite in defending their chosen parenting style. Dr. Henderson, who describes herself as a curious, scientific, open-minded person, was surprised at how defensive parents could be and, at times, of their judgemental attitude towards each other. She explained the neurology of the Mummy Wars; okay, I’ll need you to bear with me for a second. Warning; I’m about to use some neuro-techie language.

Why do we judge each other?
As we have all had different experiences, this means that we all have very different memories stored in our brains. Most of our memories are ‘explicit’ memories – these are ones that we can recall easily such as important dates that mean something to us; important birthdays, special events or stories of and about our lives.
There is another type of memory called ‘implicit’ memory that plays a
key role in our parenting. This type of memory is the stuff that you do on autopilot. Psychologists call these heuristics or rules of thumb –
such as tying your shoelace, or driving your car (once you have learnt
to do both first!). Otherwise we’d really waste a huge amount of time
pondering over tasks that we have readily available to us. This seems to be where the science bit of our parenting style kicks in. This implicit memory goes all the way back to when you were an infant being parented by your parents. This is when you started the process of storing up how they did it into your memories.
Unless you make a conscious choice and effort to parent differently, what you saw and unconsciously learnt will be your automatic go-to parenting style.

We learn habits
This can really kick into gear when we feel our parenting style is
being mirrored or highlighted by disapproval from another parent. I know the cold sweat you feel when your child decides to make their outstanding bad behaviour performance at, of course, the most public and worst time. The implicit autopilot of how your parents dealt with these outbursts will flow unconsciously from you if you haven’t worked super hard to be aware and consciously change the old habits.
What’s happening for the on-looking parent is that they see you doing something they are used to doing, but you are doing it all wrong. Simply, because that is not how they know how to do it.

Find a way that works
You both have different parenting styles – who is to say which type is correct? You just need to know what works best for your family and that’s the bottom line. The irksome feelings won’t go away. You can talk to your sister-in-law, but I’m adding a caveat that it would be hard not to hurt her feelings. What we’re possibly looking at is that you prefer a more structured form of parenting, whereas your sister-in-law has a more permissive style. I’m not sure the two styles can mix, the mixture is a bit like oil and water.
If a collaborative shared form of parenting style can be agreed upon, then that is great, but our learnt hardwiring may prove difficult to change despite the intent to do so.
Perhaps, your own instinct of changing childcare might work best for you. In terms of making childcare work; the fit is ultimately the most
important aspect as you want a cohesive congruent feeling of the other caregiver to just ‘getting it’, like in any good partnership. Best of luck
with this and I wish you both well.