Xylitol helps prevent ear infections

There is "fair evidence" to support the use of xylitol to prevent inner ear infections in healthy children, according to a meta-analysis in the Cochrane Library (November 9, 2011).

In the new review, researchers at the University of Toronto sought to figure out whether there is sufficient evidence to support the use of xylitol to prevent ear infections. They searched the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials for randomized controlled trials (RCTs) or quasi-RCTs of children age 12 years or younger where xylitol supplementation was compared with placebo or no treatment to prevent acute otitis media (AOM).

The researchers identified four studies that met their eligibility criteria. In three RCTs with a total of 1,826 healthy Finnish children attending day care, there was a 25% reduced risk of occurrence of AOM in the xylitol group (in any form) compared with the control group.

The fourth RCT included 1,277 Finnish day care children with a respiratory infection and found no effect of xylitol on reducing the occurrence of AOM.

The researchers also found that xylitol chewing gum was superior to xylitol syrup in preventing AOM among healthy children but not during respiratory infection. There was no difference between xylitol lozenges and xylitol syrups in preventing AOM among healthy children or among children during respiratory infection. Similarly, they noted no difference between xylitol chewing gum and xylitol lozenges in preventing AOM among healthy children or among children during respiratory infection.

Xylitol is a potential alternative for preventing ear infections in children who have problems with antibiotics, the study authors concluded. However, more research is needed before firm guidelines regarding the use of xylitol can be developed, they added.

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