The 7 Signs of Infant Ear Infections

Written by Sadiya Jamal, D.O. on Mar 30, 2016, 8:30:00 AM

As a parent, there’s probably nothing more frustrating than realizing something is bothering your child but not knowing how to help them. Before infants can talk, this is the cause for a lot of stress for moms and dads. Take ear infections, for example. They can be difficult to detect in an infant who can’t tell you their ear hurts. Knowing what to look for may help you spot an ear infection before it becomes a serious problem.

The Tell-Tale Signs


First and foremost, the only way to determine for certain that your child has an ear infection is to take them to the doctor for a diagnosis. However, in a child who can’t communicate yet, there are some subtle and not-so-subtle things to look for to determine whether or not an ear infection is possible. Look for: 

  • Tugging or pulling on their ears.
  • A general fussiness or crying.
  • Clinginess from a child who doesn’t normally want to be held.
  • Fever.
  • Trouble sleeping.
  • Fluid draining from the ears.
  • Difficulty hearing quiet sounds. 

We treat people. Not diseases.

At-Home Remedies as a Stopgap

If you think your child has an ear infection and you can’t get a doctor’s appointment right away, there are some steps you can take to help ease your child’s pain at home until they can get in to see their doctor. 

First, you can give a pain reliever if it has been approved by their doctor. 

Heat applied to the ear may help reduce pain and swelling. You can accomplish this by placing a warm washcloth on the ear. 

If you’re able to speak to a doctor or nurse before your appointment, they might suggest over-the-counter ear drops for pain. However, do not use any drops until your doctor tells you whether or not this is OK. 

Remember: Not every earache is triggered by infection because bacteria are not always what’s causing the pain. Earaches can come from having a cold or teething, so don’t give them anything prescription-level that hasn’t been prescribed by a doctor for that specific incident. 

How to Prevent an Ear Infection


The most frequent cause of ear infections in children and adults is water left in the ears. The warmth and moisture inside the ear canal is the perfect place for bacteria to grow.

Drying ears is the most obvious way to prevent ear infections, but there are many other things to watch out for that could prevent a potential infection. 

  • Don’t let infants share toys they put in their mouths and keep them away from other kids who have colds.
  • Prevent babies from lying flat with bottles – the liquid can drip down their faces and pool in the ear.
  • Keep children away from secondhand smoke. Studies show that children exposed to secondhand smoke get more ear infections.
  • Dry their ears thoroughly.
  • Stay up-to-date with vaccines. 

If you have any questions or even suspect that your child might have an ear infection, call your doctor. Ear infections can get aggressive and painful really quickly and seeing your physician will likely be the only way to get the infection under control. 


Dr. Sadiya Jamal is a board-certified pediatrician at Kelsey-Seybold Clinic in The Woodlands. Her clinical interests include counselling first-time parents, ADHD, development and newborn care.



Topics: infant ear infections, home remedies, ear infections, how to prevent ear infections in infants

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