The Cochrane database of systematic reviews

Xylitol for preventing acute otitis media in children up to 12 years of age.

PMID 22071833


Acute otitis media (AOM) is the most common bacterial infection among young children in the United States with limitations and concerns over its treatment with antibiotics and surgery. Therefore, effective preventative measures are attractive. A potential preventative measure is xylitol, a natural sugar substitute that reduces the risk for dental decay. Xylitol can reduce the adherence of Streptococcus pneumoniae (S. pneumoniae) and Haemophilus influenzae (H. influenzae) to nasopharyngeal cells in vitro. To assess the efficacy and safety of xylitol to prevent AOM in children up to 12 years old. We searched the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL) (The Cochrane Library 2011, Issue 3) which contains the Cochrane Acute Respiratory Infections Group's Specialised Register, MEDLINE (1950 to August Week 1, 2011), EMBASE (1974 to August 2011), CINAHL (1982 to August 2011), Health and Psychosocial Instruments (1985 to August 2011), Healthstar (OVID) (1966 to August 2011) and International Pharmaceutical Abstracts (2000 to August 2011). Randomised controlled trials (RCTs) or quasi-RCTs of children aged 12 years or younger where xylitol supplementation was compared to placebo or no treatment to prevent AOM. Two review authors independently selected trials from search results, assessed and rated study quality and extracted relevant data for inclusion in the review. We contacted trial authors to request missing data. We noted data on any adverse events of xylitol. We extracted data on relevant outcomes and estimated the effect size by calculating risk ratio (RR), risk difference (RD) and associated 95% confidence intervals (CI). We identified four studies of adequate methodological quality that met our eligibility criteria. In three RCTs with a total of 1826 healthy Finnish children attending day care, there was a reduced risk of occurrence of AOM in the xylitol group (in any form) compared to the control group (RR 0.75; 95% CI 0.65 to 0.88). The fourth RCT included 1277 Finnish day care children with a respiratory infection and found no effect of xylitol on reducing the occurrence of AOM (RR 1.13; 95% CI 0.83 to 1.53). Xylitol chewing gum was superior to xylitol syrup in preventing AOM among healthy children (RR 0.59; 95% CI 0.39 to 0.89) but not during respiratory infection (RR 0.68; 95% CI 0.43 to 1.07). There was no difference between xylitol lozenges and xylitol syrups in preventing AOM among healthy children (RR 0.77; 95% CI 0.53 to 1.11) or among children during respiratory infection (RR 0.74; 95% CI 0.47 to 1.14). Similarly, no difference was noted between xylitol chewing gum and xylitol lozenges in preventing AOM among healthy children (RR 0.73; 95% CI 0.47 to 1.13) or among children during respiratory infection (RR 0.92; 95% CI 0.59 to 1.46). Among the reasons for drop-outs, there were no significant differences in abdominal discomfort and rash between the xylitol and the control groups. There is fair evidence that the prophylactic administration of xylitol among healthy children attending day care centres reduces the occurrence of AOM by 25%. This meta-analysis is limited since the data arise from a small number of studies, mainly from the same research group.