Pulling at Ears

Updated on June 08, 2012
J.H. asks from Amelia, OH
42 answers

So I have already posted another question in regards to my 5 1/2 month old breastfeeding every hour. He currently has a cold so that may explain the frequent feedings. My next concern is that he has been pulling on his ears, mainly his right ear. He has no fever, there's no drainage or redness and he's not fussy. Have any of you noticed your little one's at this age pulling at their ears? I'm thinking it's a new bodily discovery, but with him suffering an Upper Respiratory Infection it may be an ear infection. I'm just trying to decide if I should go to the Pediatrician. I've been holding off since he hasn't had a fever higher than 100.3. The highest it has gone is 98.3 Axillary (which is 99.3). I'm curious if anyone else has seen their baby make this new discovery or if I should go ahead and take him to the Pedi.?

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So What Happened?

Thank you all so much for your input. I went with my "Mommy Instinct" and took him to the Pediatrician. Yes, he does have an infection in his right ear so that explains the pulling on the ears. However, our pediatrician also agrees that he has made a new discovery. Once he started pulling at his right ear due to pain he discovered his other little ear and that probably sparked a new interest. Plus, ironically he is cutting a tooth as well. Poor lil' guy, but at least I know now and he can get some deserved relief. Again, thank you moms for all the advice!

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J.E.

answers from Cleveland on

He may be teething. My (now 7 month old) did all of the above (fever, runny nose, horrible diaper rash and pulling ears) as her first two teeth came in (around 4.5 mos). Many pediatricians will tell you that there is no connection between the symptoms and teething, but I've seen it too many times to agree with them.

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S.

answers from Cincinnati on

Hi J.,
Wow you already have lots of input but I didn't see this so I'll share it. If he has been on antibiotic (or possibly even if not) he very likely has an abundance of yeast in his body which very often manifests itself in the ears - makes them itchy. If you want to know how to overcome this, please contact me personally at [email protected]____.com it's nothing else.

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L.B.

answers from Charlotte on

My daughter did that too. I worried about an ear infection, but saw no other signs. I trimmed the hair that touched them. She still tugged a little after that, but soon stopped. I would just watch and smell for infection, and try the hair trim. Hopefully it's nothing like it was with mine.

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J.W.

answers from Cincinnati on

Yes, my 11 mo son breastfed a ton when he was sick! He got back to a normal schedule when he was healthy again. He knew what he needed more than I did :)

My chiropractor adjusted my ears when I had a cold and it was amazing! My ears weren't even bothering me and the cold was all in my nose, but it worked! I felt everything drain and the next day my sore throat was gone and most of my cold was gone! Now, I do it myself and whenever my son gets the sniffles it's the first thing I do. When he's healthy, he does pull on his ears - a sign that he's tired.
There's no harm in adjusting ears if there's no sickness, so sometimes I just do it in case. It is a bit on the uncomfortable/painful side and he sure doesn't like it, but is over it in a few minutes.

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C.L.

answers from Columbus on

While I nursed one of my sons he did the same thing, pulling at his ears. (He never ran a fever either) I had the doctor check his ears and he did have an infection. He had quite a few while nursing, they thought it was a little strange for a breastfed baby to have so many infections. I finally found out that he had a milk intolerence. I had to cut back on my intake of milk while nursing him. He couldn't have frosted cheerios or cheese when he started finger foods. Don't worry he grew out of it by the time he was a year old. He is a happy healthy 12 year old now.

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P.Y.

answers from Louisville on

J. - as always when I respond here, I am coming from my perspective as a CranioSacral Therapist (see my profile) and my experience with babies, children and adults! The head has seven bones and they are all supposed to be able to move. Sometimes during birth (and other "traumatic" moments of our lives) force into the head causes one or two of the bones to get stuck on top of each other. When this happens, the normal pulsing of the head, including the brain, is reduced. When the bones at the side of the head (the temporal bones) are stuck (they are supposed to rock/rotate forward and back) then the fluid in the ear canal cannot move out, and it sits there waiting.... And babies/chidlren develop ear infections.
Since babies really have a lot of wisdom, they pull at their ears in an attempt to unstick the bones.
CranioSacral Therapy is a very successful modality at helping baby's body release restrictions/trauma from the process of coming out into the world. Please go to www.upledger.com and click on Find a Practitioner. Look for someone in your city and state (or closest bigger city). Be sure to look for or ask the person if they have experience and training working with babies and children.
Very gentle, very supportive - promoting health by restoring motion to the body.
Good luck
PamY

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M.R.

answers from Cincinnati on

Infants also tug their ears when they are sleepy. Does the ear tugging happen all the time?

It could also very well be a sign of an ear infection. And, although it seems a little early, it could also be a sign of teething.

Call your pediatrician and get his or her take on it. It certainly can't hurt!

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M.J.

answers from Cincinnati on

It certainly is possible that he has discovered his ears. It's so amazing to see them growing and developing. Pulling on the ear may also be a sign of an ear infection having had a respiratory infection as you mentioned. My daughter had lots of ear infections as an infant and toddler. Fortunately, she grew out of them. I was always at the pediatrician's office. I do recall that a fever was not always associated with an ear infection. I think it is best to take him in just to be checked out. That will give you peace of mind. You can never be too cautious with something like that. I used to second guess myself but now I call the doctor's office to make my appointments with authority. It's o.k. to consult with others but don't second guess yourself. I used to be concerned about the doctors thinking I was over the top or a borderline hypochondriac mom but that no longer concerns me. I have three kids 9, 5, and 4 and have encountered a number of situations. In the end, I've always felt good about my choices and decisions where the kids are concerned. It takes a little time to get there because you want to do whats best. You know your baby better than anyone else.

All the Best

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A.V.

answers from Dayton on

I have a 4 1/2 month old and he has started touching his ears also. He does not pull on them but he does like to reach up hold them. He also reaches for mine from time to time when I am holding him. I would say if he isn't acting fussy it is probably just a comfort thing. You could always call the doctors office and speak with a nurse and see what they suggest before taking him into the doctor and paying for a visit.

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M.R.

answers from Columbus on

I would say that if he already has a URI, then he's probably on antibiotics? My son did a lot of ear pulling but acted fine, and has never had an ear infection. In fact, on of the parents magazines for this month has a part about how that is not actually a reliable sign - if your ear hurts you probably won't pull on it was the gist of what it said. I (myself) would hold off, but trust your gut - that's what nurses are great at (I'm one too.!)

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K.S.

answers from Cincinnati on

Just to be safe, I would check with his dr. My 20mo old recently had a "severe" double ear infection with no other symptoms, not even a runny nose. I saw her sticking her finger in her ear a couple of times one day, and decided to take her just in case. Also, like other moms said, it could be related to teething. Good luck!

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A.R.

answers from Canton on

I would definitely take him in. My son was a chronic ear infection kid and he did pull at his ears when they would bother him. He had so many infections that he ended up with tubes. Anytime he would get sick, the fluid would ALWAYS end up in his ears and his canals were too tiny to push it back out. I wish you luck.

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S.H.

answers from Toledo on

My daughter has allergies and will pull and play with her ears at times and after many Dr. visits to make sure that she didn't have an ear infection we believe that it is sinus drainage. I do know of some children that do not always run a fever with an ear infection. Maybe watch for other signs also. unusual sleep patters, fussy, not eating. If ever I am not sure I always pay a visit to the Dr.

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K.L.

answers from Cleveland on

Pulling at just one ear is usually a sign of congestion in that ear. Since you are breast feeding you are moving that Eustacian tube to drain it. My son never had a fever with his ear infections. We just noticed that when we layed him down flat - he would fuss and cry and pull on his ear.

Now that we can no longer give the little ones Dinatapps to "dry them out" , my best advice is follow your motherly instinct and take him to the pediatrician.

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K.B.

answers from Cincinnati on

Pulling at the right ear is probably an ear infection. Although, unless running a fever most dr.s won't give you an antibiotic anymore for that. They may give you drops to relieve the pain/discomfort. There are such things, infant ear drops, over the counter that you can get from walgreens or local drug store. I've had some people say they work great and others not so much. Since he already has an upper respiratory infection there's a really good chance it's an ear infection. Their ear canals are so little at this stage that they easily get infected.

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K.S.

answers from Columbus on

Hi J.. My eleven month old was doing the same thing and he just had built up wax in his ears. A doctor friend recommended Debrox drops or you can also use olive oil to soften the wax. Also placing a heating pad on the ear. I have not tried that but the drops seemed to really help.

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A.S.

answers from Cincinnati on

Take him to the doctor...my son often went to the pediatrician with other issues and popped up with an ear infection that had no symptoms at all. Your gut is telling you something is up...that's why you emailed. Follow your gut. The worst that can happen is they tell you he's fine. It's worth the co-pay for the peace of mind.

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B.E.

answers from Cincinnati on

your right that the old "when they pull on the ears it is an ear infection" is a myth, medically unfounded and dis proven. Babies love when they find the fleshy floppy things attached to their heads! Yet you can have an ear infection without a fever, does he avoid laying his head down on that side, what does your gut tell you your the mama, when in doubt check with the doc!

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M.G.

answers from Mansfield on

Both of my children are adults now. My daughter had ear infections all the time...so much so that we had tubes put in. She never ran a fever when she had these infections but I got to the point where I could tell because she always got clingy.

My opinion is that the pulling on the ears might be an ear infection.

M. Gerhart

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J.F.

answers from Las Vegas on

Hi, my son is now 5months old and is doing the same thing. whenever he is mad or frustrated on something he pulled his ears or his hair. I'm quite worried I'm not sure if some babies do same things.

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N.L.

answers from Cleveland on

I would suggest you take him in to the pediatrician. It may be just that he has found a new body part, but to put your mind at ease, I think that bringing him to the doctor would be your best bet. If it's nothing, great! But if he does have an ear infection, then it's great that you caught it. Good luck!

N.

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A.P.

answers from Cincinnati on

I would definitely take him to the Dr. My son had ear issues almost from the time he was born and tubes by the time he was 7 mos. When I would see him tug on his ear when breastfeeding I knew he had an infection, and not always did he have a fever or any other sign. Obviously there's no way of knowing for sure until you take him.
Good luck!

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W.B.

answers from Toledo on

Hi J.,
It has always been my understanding that children under the age of 1 year, with a cold, should be seen by the doctor if pulling at the ear. It almost always goes in to their ears. My middle son never had a temp with an ear infection. Every time he got a cold it went into his ears. It can't hurt to get it checked out. Hope your little guy feels better soon.

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N.M.

answers from Cleveland on

Sounds like he's teething if he's drooling a lot and pulling at the ears, all signs. I have a 6 1/2m old with 2 bottom teeth now and it can take a while. But always check with your pediatrican, you can call them on the phone.

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K.S.

answers from Cleveland on

My 7 month old pulls at his ears when he's nursing and tired. He's never been sick though so I would definitely keep an eye on your baby just to be sure he's okay(although I would think he'd cry if he was uncomfortable)

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M.L.

answers from Mansfield on

It wouldn't hurt to have your pediatrician look at him, just to check for an ear infection.

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J.S.

answers from Columbus on

it could be teething cause thats what my little one does

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C.M.

answers from Columbus on

He probably has an ear infection. Pulling ears is usually the first sign and they don't have to have a fever to have one.

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K.Y.

answers from Cincinnati on

My daughter use to pull and rub her ears while she was breastfeeding. It was just a soothing thing for her, and she still loves to have her ears rubbed when we are relaxing. She has since moved on to tugging on her hair while she is drinking. If this is something that happens only at certain times (i.e. feedings) then it might now actually be anything other than a soothing mechanism. But, a trip to the doctor might give you some peace of mind.

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P.H.

answers from Louisville on

I would go to the doctor for that, especially if there is a fever, even if it is low. fever is a sign of infection. However, if the child is already on medication for the upper respiratory infection, then you may wait until that medicine is gone to see if it takes care of the problem. trust your nurse instincts. Think about it like this...what if it was someone else's child, what would you, as a nurse, reccommend. There is your answer! ;-) good luck!

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E.C.

answers from Canton on

Here is some helpful information from Dr Sear's "The Baby Book".

Pg676
Tugging at Ears:
"Many parents bring their children into our office because they are pulling on their ears. There are no cold symptoms or fever, just ear pulling. Tugging on the ear almost never means an ear infection when there is no accompanying cold or fever. Teething is actually the most common cause of ear tugging. Baby is looking for some way to relieve the pain and pressure of teething. So if baby is pulling or digging at his ears, shows signs of teething, and there are no fever or cold symptoms, then there is probably no ear infection."

Signs suggesting an ear infection: (also pg 676):
"-increasingly thick and snotty nasal secretions
-eye drainage
-crankiness and irritability
-frequent night waking or change in sleep pattern
-unwillingness to lie flat
-crying or screaming plus cold symptoms
-drainage from ear
-sudden worsening of a cold."

Also on page 498 Dr Sears states:
teething rarely causes a fever higher than 101F

I too am a nurse and I have the same problem of second guessing my nursing assessment skills. So his ear tugging could potentially be due to teething. Does he have any other cold/ear infection symptoms? I believe that most Pedis won't even treat an ear infection with ABX until the symptoms have been present for 72hrs or longer. But I always tell myself that when in doubt...go to the doctor...because the extra cost of the appintment is worth the peace of mind gained.

Hope this helps. Good Luck!

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K.S.

answers from Cincinnati on

Hi there,
I would go to the pediatrician. My kids (now 4 and 5) still do not show any signs of an ear infection when they have one. They still seem to get one with every cold. If you have any concerns, take him in, that is what they are there for. I hope it is not an ear infection.
K. S

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K.B.

answers from Louisville on

Hi J.! I've heard this could be a sign of teething. I would call your Ped just to be sure though.

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K.S.

answers from Cleveland on

My little one pulled on his ears at 5 and half months as well. Two days later two bottom teeth arrived. Get the camera ready just in case :)

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T.P.

answers from Canton on

Be on the safe side and take him to the dr's to be checked out. With an URI, it's likely it's an ear infection. Better to find out now, than to let it go until it's in bad shape. I hope he feels better soon!

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K.S.

answers from Columbus on

Hi J.,

If he isn't fussing about it, then it may just be a new body discovery. My oldest does this, but he is 9, and he does it because he gets major wax build up in his years. Believe it or not, it may also be teething related. But if your baby has a respiratory infection, it might be worth a trip to get checked out. Hope he feels better soon!

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A.T.

answers from Cleveland on

Yes, yes, yes. A child can have an ear infection without a fever and some don't even complain. Ear swiping is a sign, however. Crankiness at night as ears seem to hurt more at night is another sign. Especially in conjunction with a cold. I think it merits a pediatrician check. It's so much better when they learn to talk and can tell you what hurts.

It may simply be pressure build up in his ears (which I am personally experiencing now with my cold), but better to have it looked at by the pediatrician.

A.

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N.R.

answers from Cleveland on

J.,

My 6 mo old just got over a cold and I just let it run its course with no medication or intervention. The only thing I did was let her sleep in her car seat at night for a few nights because her coughing was waking her (and me!) up quite often. She had no ear infection. Not all kids get ear infections when they get sick. She hardly ate any solids though, only breast-feeding and botttle and it did seem to be quite often. My pediatrician siad that she might have had a sore throat and the milk helped soothe the discomfort. It took about two weeks for her to be completely free of symptoms (runny nose and cough), but she was actually pretty happy during the whole thing.

Kids pull on their ears for all kinds of reasons and it does not mean they have an ear infection. My little one used to pull on her ears at about this age when breast feeding, but she only did it for about a month. Part of it was something new that she discovered, part of it was being tired. If your child has an ear infection he will have a fever and will be upset/uncomfortable.

Making a call to the pediatrician never hurts. Just pick up the phone and be ready to tell them all the symptoms you observe. They will tell you if you need to bring him into the office or not.

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T.P.

answers from Cincinnati on

When my son was a baby, he went from being happy one day to colic the next and straight into constant ear infections! We dealt with ear infections for months! There were times that we would go in for a check up and they would tell me he would have another one. Sometimes he showed all the signs and others no signs.

My son didn't have any drainage with his ear infections as his ears were always plugged. We finally got tubes when he was 14 months and he is doing great. I only wish we would have done it sooner! Take it from me, if you're second guessing yourself (on any issue), go to the doctor! It will help your son if he really does have an infection and if he doesn't, it will put your mind at ease! :)

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A.C.

answers from Bloomington on

I actually just made an appointment for my 18 month old son to have his ears checked because he started batting and pulling at one ear and crying inconsolably for a couple of hours, yesterday. He had quite a few ear infections during his first year, sometimes found at his regular well child checkups. He would occasionally be fussy with these infections, but we sometimes chalked it up to teething, and most of the time, he didn't show any signs at all that he was in pain. In fact, yesterday's crying and ear pulling was a real first for my son. I ended up calling the doctor on-call to find out what I could do for the pain. She suggested Infant's Motrin, and then, she suggested that I make an appointment to have him seen, today. The only real way to know if it's an ear infection or not is to have the pediatrician look into your child's ears. It could be a new discovery thing, but it's always safer to get it checked out by a doctor. You could always talk to the nurse in the office on the phone first, and find out what she suggests. Usually, when I did that, she ended up telling me to take my son in to the office, anyway. Hope that helps.

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T.C.

answers from Toledo on

Well, this is a tough one.

It could just be that he's pulling on his ears because he's tired (my 1 year old has done that since about 5 months old)..or he could have the beginning of an ear infection. Or it could be wax build-up. My 4 year old has very narrow ear canals and the wax can't get pushed out normally -- so we have to use ear drops to treat and sometimes even get the ears flushed by the doc.

Even though there is no fever, if he's sick anyway...I'd call the pediatrician and tell them he's been tugging on his ears. It's better to be safe, right?

Good luck.

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S.P.

answers from Cleveland on

Could be a newly discovered body part but I would take him in to have his ears checked. Still could be an ear infection.

S.

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