Ear infections: What are the symptoms

I am a new mother with a three-month-old daughter. What are the typical symptoms of ear infection in an infant?

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Robert Steele

Robert W. Steele, MD, is a board certified pediatrician at St. John's Regional Health Center in Springfield, MO. He graduated from medical... Read more

You ask an excellent question. It is easy to suspect a three-year-old child has an ear infection because she tells you so. However, it's much more difficult to figure out if your three month old has one.

Symptoms of ear infections in pre-verbal children have been studied quite a bit. The results are not too surprising. When parents of children who are known to have ear infections are asked to describe the symptoms their children were experiencing at the time, the most common answers are fever, fussiness, tugging at ears, recent cold symptoms (e.g. runny nose, cough, etc.), shaking of the head, and unwillingness to suck on a pacifier.

However, when physicians then used these symptoms to try to predict who had an ear infection and who didn't, they were right about 50 percent of the time. In other words, children who have ear infections may have the above symptoms, but not all children who have those symptoms have ear infections. The only way to diagnose an ear infection is to have your health care provider get a look in the ear.

No one particular symptom is specific for ear infections. My advice to you is to keep the above symptoms in mind, and then seek help from your physician when it seems these symptoms are numerous, severe or lasting longer than you might expect.

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