June 29, 2011

Xylitol (Natural Compound) to Prevent Recurrent Sinus and Ear Infections?

Image by Lauri Andler from Wikipedia
I only recently became aware of a natural sugar compound called "Xylitol" from a colleague Dr. Russell Faust. I certainly have never heard of it during medical school or surgical training.

This naturally-occurring sugar substitute apparently has all sorts of anti-bacterial as well as anti-fungal properties and has been known to doctors and scientists but hardly marketed or promoted in any fashion.

However, the importance of this compound is that it DOES appear to significantly decrease the incidence of ear infections and sinus infections when used regularly (in essence, xylitol mixed in with salt-water sprayed into the nose several times a day). See references below for links to research papers.

It's cheap, over-the-counter and at least from the studies I've reviewed, does seem to work. However, to be fair, it only works when given regularly even if healthy. If given when sick, it does not work (see this study). Also to be fair, there are some studies that suggest that xylitol does NOT work at all.

However, given there are minimal (if any) side effects and safe for kids, it is certainly something worth trying before surgical consideration, especially in children.

Why is this compound not more well-known?

Probably because it's cheap and therefore not a money-maker... which means not a lot of dollars goes into marketing the product whether directly to patients or doctors.

In any case, you can get it on Amazon.com here (or possibly at a local pharmacy).

I should also mention that Xlear is the only product series that uses the optimal concentration xylitol (others use only the bare minimum concentration to meet ingredient inclusion).

Xylitol as a prophylaxis for acute otitis media: systematic review. Int J Audiol. 2010 Oct;49(10):754-61.

A novel use of xylitol sugar in preventing acute otitis media. Pediatrics. 1998 Oct;102(4 Pt 1):879-84.

Xylitol chewing gum in prevention of acute otitis media: double blind randomised trial. BMJ. 1996 Nov 9;313(7066):1180-4.

Failure of xylitol given three times a day for preventing acute otitis media. Pediatr Infect Dis J. 2007 May;26(5):423-7.

Xylitol administered only during respiratory infections failed to prevent acute otitis media. Pediatrics. 2002 Feb;109(2):E19.

Fauquier blog
Fauquier ENT

Dr. Christopher Chang is a private practice otolaryngology, head & neck surgeon specializing in the treatment of problems related to the ear, nose, and throat. Located in Warrenton, VA about 45 minutes west of Washington DC, he also provides inhalant allergy testing/treatment, hearing tests, and dispenses hearing aids.

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