How do I Tell the Difference Between an Ear Infection and a Cold?

Nicole Madison
Nicole Madison
Nicole Madison
Nicole Madison
There are several causes for ear pain.
There are several causes for ear pain.

Sometimes it is difficult to tell the difference between an earache caused by a cold and ear pain that is caused by an ear infection. The major difference between an ear infection and a cold is that the ear pain caused by a common cold is usually accompanied by symptoms of a cold. For example, you may have a runny nose, green or yellow mucus, and a sore throat with a cold. The earache in such a case may develop gradually and go away on its own. When ear pain is caused by an ear infection, however, pain may develop suddenly and be severe.

A doctor may use an otoscope in determining if a patient is suffering from an ear infection or a cold.
A doctor may use an otoscope in determining if a patient is suffering from an ear infection or a cold.

One of the reasons it can be so difficult to tell the difference between an ear infection and a cold is that ear infections often develop in relation to a cold. You may, for example, have common symptoms of a cold and eventually develop an earache as well. The earache may be a minor symptom of the cold or a complication of the cold that has resulted in infection. One way to tell the difference, in some cases, is if the ear pain develops along with a sudden fever. Fever by itself, however, is not an accurate indication of the cause of your ear pain, as a fever may develop with both a basic cold and an ear infection.

A runny nose is a common symptom of a cold.
A runny nose is a common symptom of a cold.

While it’s not usually possible to note the difference between an ear infection and a cold based on a fever alone, your temperature may help to confirm your suspicions that you have an ear infection. Often colds are not accompanied by fevers or are only accompanied by low-grade fevers. Ear infections, however, are more likely to cause higher fevers. For example, it is common to have a fever of up to 104 degrees Fahrenheit (40 degrees Celsius) with an ear infection.

A sore throat is commonly caused by a cold.
A sore throat is commonly caused by a cold.

There are some symptoms that may be more likely to occur if you have an ear infection rather than a cold. For example, you may lose your appetite or have a hard time sleeping when you have an ear infection. You may also have drainage from your ear, hearing difficulties, and irritability. An ear infection may even lead to symptoms of vertigo.

Since it can be so difficult to tell the difference between an ear infection and a cold, you may feel more comfortable with taking a better-safe-than-sorry approach. If you have cold symptoms and a painful and persistent earache, you may visit your doctor for an examination. Your doctor will likely use a medical tool called an otoscope to determine whether you are dealing with pain caused by a cold or an infection in your ear.

Nicole Madison
Nicole Madison

Nicole’s thirst for knowledge inspired her to become a writer, and she focuses primarily on topics such as homeschooling, parenting, health, science, and business. When not writing or spending time with her four children, Nicole enjoys reading, camping, and going to the beach.

Nicole Madison
Nicole Madison

Nicole’s thirst for knowledge inspired her to become a writer, and she focuses primarily on topics such as homeschooling, parenting, health, science, and business. When not writing or spending time with her four children, Nicole enjoys reading, camping, and going to the beach.

Discussion Comments

Rotergirl

Fever is often a symptom, along with pressure on the ear, etc. For people who can take NSAIDs, take two Naprox and see if you get any relief. If you do, it might just be pressure, which the anti-inflammatory relieved.

Also, a cold will improve in a few days. Ear infections just keep hurting. If you don't have any improvement in the ear pain, see a doctor. You don't want an ear infection to turn into something more serious, like osteomyelitis, which is when the bone gets infected. Persistent pain and fever should get you out the door and into your doctor's office.

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    • There are several causes for ear pain.
      By: Lev Dolgatsjov
      There are several causes for ear pain.
    • A doctor may use an otoscope in determining if a patient is suffering from an ear infection or a cold.
      By: JPC-PROD
      A doctor may use an otoscope in determining if a patient is suffering from an ear infection or a cold.
    • A runny nose is a common symptom of a cold.
      By: Subbotina Anna
      A runny nose is a common symptom of a cold.
    • A sore throat is commonly caused by a cold.
      By: absolutimages
      A sore throat is commonly caused by a cold.
    • A sudden fever might be caused by an ear infection.
      By: Ocskay Bence
      A sudden fever might be caused by an ear infection.
    • Many people experience ear infections after a cold or a sinus infection.
      By: JackF
      Many people experience ear infections after a cold or a sinus infection.
    • An ear infection may cause vertigo as well as problems with balance and gait.
      By: elizalebedewa
      An ear infection may cause vertigo as well as problems with balance and gait.