What does an ear infection feel like? Symptoms, in babies, adults and cures!

What does an ear infection feel like?  What are the symptoms in ear infections for babies?  We’ll also talk about ear infections in adults.  What should you do and can essential oils help?

ear infection symptoms in babies

You know it, it’s the middle of the night, no one is getting sleep.
Everyone is crying
{screaming baby}….
Oh crap… is it an ear infection, or something else?
That was a good part of my life with baby #1.  Have you ever lived this situation out in your own home?  Here are some ear infection symptoms to look for!

Ear infections can be SO miserable.  Let’s give you a few things to watch for to know if that might be the problem, especially in non-verbal babies/early toddlers (it’s petty easy to know it’s an ear infection if they can say “my ears hurt” — it’s always so nice once kids can tell you their symptoms!).

Ear infections are caused by fluid collecting behind the ear drum (often from a cold or allergies)  and then bacteria/viruses growing in there.  It causes the ear drum to bulge and that’s painful.

Ok, how do I know all this?

Well, long before I worked labor and delivery, I worked phone triage for a huge pediatric office.  I also worked their late night emergency clinic.  It was a GREAT job for a person to learn a lot about children’s health.  I feel really blessed to have been able to learn all that I did, and now I can share those lessons with you!

What does an ear infection feel like?

  1. Ear Pain — like down your ear, your tympanic membrane bulging making the area around it hurt
  2. Throat pain — a lot of times it hurts in your throat.  Your throat and ears are SO close together, it can feel like it hurts all over
  3. Gland pain — your glands are located on both sides of your neck, and they can bulge and hurt as well

Even though we all feel our ear, throat, and neck as distinct places — our body doesn’t always distinguish where the pain is — so all/some of those places can hurt with an ear infection.

Kids may say their neck hurts, when it’s an ear infection as well — beacuse in reality it’s all very close together.

Ear Infection Symptoms in Babies:

Pulling at their ears is an ear infection symptom

This one SEEMS like it makes sense, but a lot of kids pull their ears when they’re tired or their throat hurts or sometimes even when they find a lot of joy in pulling at their ears.  This isn’t a tell-tale, but often when done WHILE whining or doing it out of character along with the other two can be a sign…

Cry when you lay them down is an ear infection symptom

This isn’t when you lay them down in their crib.  This is when they lay down on your lap or on the couch by you.  The fluid behind their eardrum is especially painful when they lay down — that’s what causes this.

Cry when they’re eating is an ear infection symptom

Babies often cry when they’re eating, but when they have an ear infection, they’ll take a few hungry sucks and then start to cry.

This was usually the more tell-tale sign for me.  If they only have an irritated throat they’ll cry on the first suck.  Again, this is because the fluid behind their ears (you have to remember that ears and throat are REALLY close in a baby) moves in a way that irritates them after those first couple of sucks.

It will also hurt more to eat laying down (see above) than if you sit them up and have them eat.

Ear infection cures:

Studies seem to show that ear infections are frequently viral.  That means that antibiotics aren’t helpful for them.  BUT, in kids under 2-3, most of the time your provider will recommend an antibiotic.  However, after age 3, or so, you might want to consider holding off.

I’m a huge proponent of not using antibiotics unless you REALLY need to!

Personally, I will ask my provider to give me a script, and then watch them for a couple of days.  If the ear pain gets considerably worse or they’re just not getting better, then we can start it at my discretion.

NOTE:  I’m talking about an inner ear infection.  That means infection behind your eardrum.  You can also have an outer-ear infection (often you talk about that as “swimmer’s ear”) that is treated with topical drop.

There are drops you can use to help make the eardrum less painful.  I have yet to find one that works well for us, but I have friends that rave about them.

El Presidente got tubes after an ear infection that was taking months to get rid of.  They usually recommend tubes after either repetitive ear infections or ones that won’t go away.  Just one or two isn’t an indication that tubes are worthwhile — be sure to ask your doctor any questions you have, though!

Home Remedies for Ear Infections:

The main home remedy is to help them feel better.

The main thing I’ve ever had luck with is some mild heat on that side.  So, take a warm microwaveable heat pack and just lay on it.  That helps quite a lot.

Clearly, Tylenol or Ibuprofen can help as well (check with your doctor to make sure they’re safe to take).

If you’ve ever used something else to treat an ear infection, I’d love to know in the comments!

Essential Oils for Ear Infections:

Personally, the only thing I’ve ever had luck with is some lemon oil below my ear area and down onto my neck.  I would guess, because it smells lemon-y you could also try Pain Ease.

Note:  I would dilute both of those into a roller bottle with some type of carrier oil (I usually use fractionated coconut oil).

To make a roller bottle, you decide how concentrated you want the oil to be (I usually eyeball about 1/3 essential oil to 2/3 carrier oil in the roller bottle).  BUT, it depends on how “hot” the oil feels so you might want to consult where you purchased the oil.

Roller bottles save you MONEY, but using less of the more-expensive essential oil, AND they make it easier to use the oil as it spreads better over your body.

How can you know if your child has an ear infection?

The #1 best thing to know if your child has an ear infection is buying an otoscope and using it frequently to know what a normal eardrum looks like, vs an infected one.

I wish I had bought this otoscope when my first was little.  It would’ve saved a lot of co-pays.

PRO TIP with Otoscopes:  The key is looking in their ears frequently (especially when they’re feeling fine) to figure out how to do it and what their normal eardrum looks like.  The beauty about that otoscope is that it comes with a guide of what to look for.  Super handy!

The reason I write these types of articles is to prevent unnecessary visits to your pediatrician.  Any more, whenever I call I feel like they tell me to just come in.

The reality is that there are a LOT of childhood illnesses that do NOT need to be seen by a doctor.  It just isn’t a good use of your health care dollar.  That’s my perspective, but there’s nothing wrong — if you’re concerned, to have your doctor take a peek at your child.  An ear infection can easily turn into an eye infection as well.

As always NEVER take any advice given here over the advice of your doctor and if you are concerned you should always seek help from a healthcare professional.

Related Post:  How to cure the stomach flu.

If your child has a fever be sure to check out children’s fever — that post is super informational!


If you’re looking for more tips on keeping your family health, be sure to sign up for my family health newsletter — and check out my other tips below:

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ear infection home remedies

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