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What Parents Should Know about Vitamin D and Ear Infections

Ear infections and vitamin D

If your child keeps getting ear infections, then it may be time to look at his or her intake of vitamin D. New research indicates that supplementation with vitamin D can reduce the risk for recurrent acute ear infections among children.

Oh no, another ear infection

Most parents of young children are familiar with ear infections (also known as otitis media). In fact, 75 percent of children develop an ear infection by the time they are three years old, and some children have as many as 6 or more per year during their first few years of life.

One reason kids are so susceptible to ear infections is their lack of a fully immune system to fight off the bacteria. Another reason is their smaller and more horizontal Eustachian tubes, which makes it more difficult for fluid to drain out of the ears when kids have a cold or other respiratory condition.

A research team at the Universita degli Studi di Milano in Italy believe they have found a way to help reduce the risk of recurring acute otitis media in children. Susanna Esposito, MD, who headed the study, explained during a recent Interscience Conference on Anti-Microbial Agents and Chemotherapy that vitamin D supplementation should be considered for children with recurrent ear infections who have low serum levels of the nutrient.

Esposito and her colleagues came to this conclusion after studying 116 children (average age, about 34 months) with recurrent acute otitis media who were randomly assigned to receive 1,000 IU vitamin D or placebo daily for four months. At the start of the study, the average serum vitamin D level among the participants was 26 ng/mL, with 30 ng/mL being the recommended level.

Recurrent otitis media was defined as having three or more episodes during the six months before entering the study or four or more events during the 12 months prior to the study. About three-quarters of the children had been breast fed for at least three months, and all had received a flu vaccination. Episodes of ear infections were monitored for 6 months.

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Here’s a rundown of the findings:

  • Children who took vitamin D had a significantly lower risk of experiencing acute ear infection than those who took placebo
  • Similarly, the risk of experiencing uncomplicated acute otitis media was significantly less among kids who took vitamin D
  • At the six-month follow-up, blood vitamin D levels averaged 36.2 ng/mL among kids who took the supplement compared with 18.7 ng/mL among those who took placebo
  • Use of vitamin D was well tolerated by the children

Therefore, the results of this study suggest vitamin D supplementation can reduce the risk of recurrent otitis media among young children.

Other ways to prevent or treat ear infections
Other ways to help prevent ear infections include the following recommendations from the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders:

  • Do not give babies a bottle during a nap or at night
  • Vaccinate children with the flu vaccine every year
  • Vaccinate children with the 13-valent pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV13). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that children begin the vaccination series for PCV13 at age 2 months.
  • Wash hands often
  • Limit children’s exposure to other kids or adults when they or others are ill
  • Keep children away from cigarette smoke

A recent study appearing in the International Journal of Pediatric Otorhinolaryngology regarding complementary and alternative medicine approaches for ear infections in children reviewed 36 studies. The authors noted that “probiotics and xylitol may be beneficial,” and that “vitamin supplementation may be helpful.”

Xylitol is commonly used as a sugar substitute in sugar-free products such as candies and gum. This naturally occurring alcohol is derived from birch wood for medicinal purposes, specifically for prevention of middle ear infections in children.

Now parents and healthcare providers have another tool they can use to fight otitis media in children. If your child suffers with recurrent ear infections, vitamin D supplementation may reduce their occurrence.

Esposito S et al. Vitamin D supplementation reduce the risk of acute otitis media in otitis-prone children. ICAAC 2013; abstract G-1249
Levi JR et al. Complementary and alternative medicine for pediatric otitis media. International Journal of Pediatric Otorhinolaryngology 2013 Jun; 77(6): 926-31

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