Natural sweetener could help kids avoid ear infections

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Xylitol could help prevent ear infections in kids, finds Cochrane review,

In a systematic review from Cochrane researchers, the sweetener xylitol, found in some gums, mints and lozenges is found to reduce ear infections in kids. The news is good for parents looking for ways to keep their children away from the doctor and emergency room this winter.

Xylitol, also known as birch sugar, has antibacterial properties, but researchers haven’t found enough evidence to suggest using the sweetener to help prevent ear infections.

Amir Azarpazhooh, D.D.S., said xylitol seems to inhibit bacteria in healthy children, up to age 12. The review found kids given the sweetener had fewer ear infections, compared to children given lozenges, gums and syrups with other sweeteners.

The natural sweetener is found in the fibers of fruits, vegetables, corn husks and sugar cane.

Ear infections can be serious and costly to treat with antibiotics that also have side effects.

Jeffrey L. Danhauer, Ph.D., chair of speech and hearing sciences at the University of California at Santa Barbara, who has also studied the use of xylitol to keep ear infections at bay, says, “It makes the most sense to try to go toward prevention."


Eighty-three percent of children experience an ear infection by age 3; severe cases require surgery.

The Cochrane review found xylitol reduced ear infection rates in children 25 percent overall, compared to controls in children under age 12. The dose found to be effective was eight to ten grams of xylitol a day in the form of chewing gum, mints or lozenges.

For kids under age 12, xylitol syrup can be used. In the study, infection rates were 30 percent lower from birch sugar.

Even chewing gum can help kids prone to ear infections. According to Mark Shikowitz, M.D., vice chairman of otolaryngology with the North Shore LIJ-Health System in New Hyde Park, N.Y., opening and closing the jaw during chewing opens the Eustachian tubes in the ear. He warns too much gum chewing can lead to jaw problems, however.

Since teachers frown on gum chewing at school, Danhauer suggests sprays containing birch sugar might help.

The Cochrane review shows xylitol, also known as birch sugar, might be good prevention for ear infections this winter, especially for children who have difficulty taking antibiotics.

Review co-author Hardy Limeback, M.D., head of preventive dentistry at the University of Toronto, says more research is needed before your own doctor can make any official recommendations about whether xylitol would prevent ear infection.

Image: Xylitol crystals
Credit: Wikimedia commons


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