Ear Problems in Babies

You suspect baby’s got an earache or some other ear issue, but how do you know if it’s an ear infection? We’ve got the scoop.
save article
profile picture of Anita Chandra-Puri, MD
By Anita Chandra-Puri, MD, Pediatrician
Updated March 9, 2020
Hero Image
Image: Bjarte Rettedal / Getty Images

What is considered an ear problem for a baby?

Babies often broadcast an ear problem by crying when they lie down; toddlers frequently complain by pulling on or holding one ear. Or you may simply spot some smelly discharge coming from the ear itself.

What could be causing my baby’s ear problem?

Few children escape their early years without suffering through at least one ear infection, aka acute otitis media. By their first birthday, more than 60 percent of children will have had at least one middle ear infection. Sometimes the infection is due to a virus, but it’s also often due to a bacteria. The infection develops when fluid is trapped in the middle ear and builds up behind the eardrum. This moist, warm place is perfect for either viruses or bacteria to grow like crazy, causing inflammation and pain around the eardrum. But this inflammation isn’t the only potential ear issue. If your baby or toddler has been hanging out in the pool, she may have developed an outer ear infection, or swimmer’s ear (an inflammatory response to bacteria or some other agent in the water).

When should I take my baby to see the doctor with an ear problem?

Although you don’t want your baby to be prescribed antibiotics unnecessarily, it’s important to talk with your doctor soon after your child develops an ear problem so they can determine if it’s bacterial or viral. A severe or untreated infection can cause the eardrum to rupture, or even cause an infection in the skull behind the ear (mastoiditis), so it’s important to consult your doctor. And if your child is in pain, has a high fever, is acting dizzy or is unable to hear well, definitely pay a visit to your pediatrician.

Related Video

What should I do to treat my baby’s ear problem?

To help ease some of the pain, try holding a warm, dry towel against her ear (throw a washcloth in the dryer for a few minutes).  Acetaminophen or  ibuprofen can also take away some of the pain. And you can try elevating her head when she’s lying down — just beware of pillows, which can be a risk for sudden infant death syndrome, and find a way to safely elevate one side of baby’s mattress from underneath.

Please note: The Bump and the materials and information it contains are not intended to, and do not constitute, medical or other health advice or diagnosis and should not be used as such. You should always consult with a qualified physician or health professional about your specific circumstances.

save article

Next on Your Reading List

baby smiling at doctor appointment
4 Questions to Ask Baby’s Doctor About RSV
By Chaunie Brusie, BSN, RN
baby sitting on couch sneezing
The 5 Best Ways to Protect Baby From RSV
By Kate Traverson
cold and flu medication and hot tea on wooden table at home
What to Know About Taking Cold Medicine While Breastfeeding
Medically Reviewed by Kendra Segura, MD
Best Baby Nasal Aspirators-hero
The Best Baby Nasal Aspirators for Stuffy Noses
By Kelsey Paine
baby crying due to hand foot mouth disease
How to Prevent and Treat Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease
Medically Reviewed by Dina DiMaggio Walters, MD
doctor checking baby's throat
Can Babies Get Strep Throat?
Medically Reviewed by Lauren Crosby, MD
baby coughing
What to Do When Baby Has a Cough
Medically Reviewed by Lauren Crosby, MD
mother holding crying baby
Everything to Know About the Flu in Babies
Medically Reviewed by Lauren Crosby, MD
baby sleeping in mother's arms at home
How to Treat a Baby Fever
Medically Reviewed by Lauren Crosby, MD
Mom holding sick baby
How to Detect and Treat Sore Throat in Babies and Toddlers
By Kristina Cappetta
mother comforting baby while breastfeeding at home
Everything to Know About Newborn and Baby Congestion
Medically Reviewed by Lauren Crosby, MD
Best Baby Thermometers
The Heat Is on: the Best Baby Thermometers for Your Needs
By Martina Garvey
child standing outside holding inhaler for asthma
RSV in Baby’s First Year Could Raise Their Risk of Asthma, Study Says
By Wyndi Kappes
mother cuddling baby that is sick with a cold at home on the couch
Sniffles Be Gone: How to Treat a Baby Cold
By Celia Shatzman
Clea Shearer and Joanna Teplin from the home edit
The Home Edit Stars Dish on How Busy Parents Can Get Organized
By Ashlee Neuman
mother taking toddler's temperature
Cold vs. COVID: Difference in Symptoms and When to Get Tested
By Nehal Aggarwal
baby sick with fever and crying while mom touches forehead
These States Are Seeing an Unusual Summertime Spike in RSV Cases
By Nehal Aggarwal
Dad comforting and holding baby.
How to Detect and Treat Thrush in Babies
By Korin Miller
Toddler drinking water from a bottle.
Mom Tells Parents to “Trust Your Gut” After Toddler’s Scary E.R. Visit
By Nehal Aggarwal
Former bachelor star Lesley Anne Murphey holds her baby with her fiance.
Bachelor Alum Warns Parents About Common Virus Affecting Infants
By Nehal Aggarwal
Article removed.
Article removed.
Name added. View Your List