Go Ad-Free
logoThe People's Perspective on Medicine

Will Birch Sugar Help Treat Ear Infections?

Gum containing birch sugar, aka xylitol, can help prevent recurrences of ear infections for children old enough to chew gum.

Many children have trouble with recurrent ear infections. Parents would like to be able to avoid these episodes. On the other hand, they don’t want to give their youngsters anything that could be bad for them. Might birch sugar help prevent recurrences?

Birch Sugar for Preventing Ear Infections:

Q. What are your thoughts on the use of the natural sweetener xylitol to aid in the treatment of ear infections? I have read that xylitol syrup is used in Europe to treat infants’ ear infections with some success.

A. Xylitol, also called birch sugar, is a natural low-calorie sweetener that is sometimes used as a sugar substitute. Xylitol syrup appears no better than placebo for preventing children’s ear infections (Pediatrics, online Jan. 6, 2014).

An early study of 857 children found that birch sugar in either syrup or chewing gum reduced recurrences of otitis (Uhari, Kontiokari & Niemela, Pediatrics, Oct. 1998). Pediatricians were initially skeptical.

Children who are old enough to chew gum, however, get fewer ear infections if they chew xylitol gum. A systematic review and meta-analysis by the highly respected Cochrane Collaboration agreed that xylitol helps prevent recurrent ear infections (Azarpazhooh, Lawrence & Shah, Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, Aug. 3, 2016). An earlier analysis found that xylitol-containing chewing gum worked better than xylitol syrup (Azarpazhooh et al, Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, Nov. 9. 2011).

Dangers of Too Much Birch Sugar:

It may be worth keeping in mind that excess xylitol, like certain other sugar substitutes (maltitol, sorbitol, etc.) can cause diarrhea. As a result, it makes sense to monitor a child’s digestive function when using this approach to ear infection prevention.

In addition, people with dogs must safeguard any products containing xylitol from accidental ingestion by the animals. Birch sugar is one of those foods that are good for people and bad for dogs (Cortinovis & Caloni, Frontiers in Veterinary Science, March 22, 2016).

Rate this article
4.7- 7 ratings
About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies..
Tired of the ads on our website?

Now you can browse our website completely ad-free for just $5 / month. Stay up to date on breaking health news and support our work without the distraction of advertisements.

Browse our website ad-free
Join over 150,000 Subscribers at The People's Pharmacy

We're empowering you to make wise decisions about your own health, by providing you with essential health information about both medical and alternative treatment options.