Teething gets blamed for a lot of things in a baby's life, from sleepless nights and those inevitable "I just want to be held by Mom" moments, to runny noses and rosy cheeks.

But how many of the "normal" signs and symptoms are really normal with teething? And more importantly, how are you supposed to tell if that runny nose your baby has is a cold or just a sign of teething?

When That Runny Nose Is Probably Related to Teething

Teething is a topic of some controversy in medical circles. Essentially, there haven't been a lot of studies that have proven, without a doubt, that teething makes babies fussier, gives them rashes, or makes them have a fever.

In fact, some studies have said that parents and caregivers pretty much overexaggerate symptoms of teething in their babies.

But still, anyone who has been a parent knows that teething is a real thing and every baby is different. I happen to have four kids and the first three of them, I kid you not, gave me no indications that they were teething.

I'll never forget the surprise I had when one day my daughter just woke up, smiling and happy, with her first tooth. I had no idea she was even teething! But then my fourth baby came along and every tooth was like a form of long, drawn out torture of sleepless nights and irritability. It was brutal.

The American Academy of Pediatrics did find that there are some consistent symptoms that babies can have while teething, especially on the day a tooth pops through and the day after. These include:

  • irritability
  • increased salivation (drooling)
  • runny nose
  • loss of appetite

All of that extra discharge, like the runny nose and increased saliva, the researchers concluded, may be caused by inflammation around the teeth. There are certain inflammatory responses that are activated when the tooth is popping through that have been found to be associated with fever, upset stomach, sleep disturbance, and appetite disturbance.

When That Runny Nose May Be Something Else

To determine if your baby's runny nose is not related to teething, but instead might be a sign of an infection or other illness that needs to be assessed by a doctor, look for the following clues.

Does My Baby Have a Fever?

A slight increase in your baby's temperature is normal with teething, but be careful, because that increase is a very small one.

The "normal" temperature rise that can occur with teething is only, on average, about 0.2ºF. It's such a small difference that most people would never even notice it, honestly. The highest temperature associated with tooth eruption is about 98.24ºF using an ear thermometer, which is completely within the normal temperature range.

So what does that mean? It means that if your baby has a fever, classified as anything over 100.4ºF taken rectally (rectal temperatures are the most accurate), then you shouldn't assume it's simply because of teething.

How Long Has the Fever Lasted?

The American Academy of Pediatrics actually found that teething-related temperature rises only really happen over the three days that a tooth pops through — the day before, the actual day it pops up, and the day after.

If your baby's temperature stays high more than three days, that's another sign that something else might be going on.

What Color Is My Baby's Snot?

While most parents commonly think that watching their baby's snot for signs that it's turning green might mean that an infection that requires antibiotics is present, that's not necessarily the case. However, the color of the snot may give you clues if it may be due to teething.

If your baby's snot is clear, it may be a result of the extra fluids and inflammatory response trigged by teething, or it might be a sign that they have been exposed to a virus, like the common cold.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, any time your baby is exposed to some kind of germ, the immune system will start working to fight off those unwanted guests and the body will increase mucus production to "flush out" the virus or bacteria.

After two or three days, as the mucus fills with captured bacteria or viruses after fighting off an infection, the nasal discharge can turn different colors, from white to yellow to green. All those colors are completely normal and don't usually require antibiotics. However, yellow or green nasal discharge for more than 10 to 14 days might be a sign of a bacterial or sinus infection.

The Takeaway

If your baby's runny nose gets worse, doesn’t improve after 10 days, if the snot is yellow or green, or if they develop any accompanying signs like a cough or fever, it might warrant a trip to the doctor's office.