Acute otitis media (AOM) is the most common bacterial infection among young children in the United States. There are limitations and concerns over its treatment with antibiotics and surgery and so effective preventative measures are attractive. A potential preventative measure is xylitol, a natural sugar substitute that reduces the risk of dental decay. Xylitol can reduce the adherence of Streptococcus pneumoniae (S pneumoniae) and Haemophilus influenzae (H influenzae) to nasopharyngeal cells in vitro. This is an update of a review first published in 2011.
To assess the efficacy and safety of xylitol to prevent AOM in children aged up to 12 years.
We searched CENTRAL (to Issue 12, 2015), MEDLINE (1950 to January 2016), Embase (1974 to January 2016), CINAHL (1981 to January 2016), LILACS (1982 to January 2016), Web of Science (2011 to January 2016) and International Pharmaceutical Abstracts (2000 to January 2016).
Randomised controlled trials (RCTs) or quasi-RCTs of children aged 12 years or younger where xylitol supplementation was compared with 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 five clinical trials that involved 3405 children for inclusion. For this 2016 update, we identified one new trial for inclusion. This trial was systematically reviewed but due to several sources of heterogeneity, was not included in the meta-analysis. The remaining four trials were of adequate methodological quality. In three RCTs that involved a total of 1826 healthy Finnish children attending daycare, there is moderate quality evidence that xylitol (in any form) can reduce the risk of AOM from 30% to around 22% compared with the control group (RR 0.75, 95% CI 0.65 to 0.88). Among the reasons for dropouts, there were no significant differences in abdominal discomfort and rash between the xylitol and the control groups. Xylitol was not effective in reducing AOM among healthy children during a respiratory infection (RR 1.13, 95% CI 0.83 to 1.53; moderate quality evidence) or among otitis-prone healthy children (RR 0.90, 95% CI 0.67 to 1.21; low-quality evidence).
There is moderate quality evidence showing that the prophylactic administration of xylitol among healthy children attending daycare centres can reduce the occurrence of AOM. There is inconclusive evidence with regard to the efficacy of xylitol in preventing AOM among children with respiratory infection, or among otitis-prone children. The meta-analysis was limited because data came from a small number of studies, and most were from the same research group.