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How can I tell if my child has an ear infection?

You may be able to tell if your child has an ear infection if your child has ear pain on one side and muffled hearing. These are hallmarks of an ear infection. For infants without a fever it may be difficult to determine if an ear infection is present.

Dr. Nina L. Shapiro, MD
Ear, Nose & Throat (ENT Specialist)

Symptoms of an ear infection in a child include irritability, ear pain in one or both ears that seems to be usually worse at night or during naps, fever, cough and poor sleep.

Your doctor will diagnose your child's ear infection by looking in his or her ears for pus bulging out of the eardrum, which is what signifies an infection. The Eustachian tube, which goes from the back of the nose to the middle of the ear, fills up with fluid during an ear infection and pushes the eardrum out. There are a lot of nerves in the eardrum, so this becomes very painful.

A red ear does not mean it’s infected; instead, it could signify a cold, recent crying or teething, coughing or the presence of fluid that’s not bacterial.

Common signs of an ear infection include:

  • Pain (Older children can tell you that their ears hurt, but younger children may only cry or be irritable, or tug on the affected ear.)
  • Loss of appetite
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Fever
  • Ear drainage
  • Trouble hearing

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.