Objective: Adults frequently use complementary and alternative medicines (CAM). Few studies have reported how often CAM therapies are used to treat children. The purpose of this study is to describe the use of alternative therapies by children visiting an emergency department (ED) and to identify sociodemographic factors that may influence the decision to use such therapies.
Design: Survey of families using a self-administered questionnaire.
Setting: An urban, tertiary care pediatric emergency department.
Participants: Convenience sample of families presenting to the ED for acute care.
Main outcome measure: Use of CAM therapies to treat children. Secondary measures include the type of therapies used, types of medical problems the therapies were used for, reasons for using such therapies, use of such therapies by the child's caretakers, and sociodemographic characteristics of the children and families.
Results: A review of 525 completed surveys identified 63 caretakers (12%) who acknowledged that they had used at least one form of CAM therapy to treat any of their children. Homeopathic and naturopathic remedies were the most common therapies used. Parents most often used CAM therapies to treat respiratory problems in their children and were most influenced by word-of-mouth. Children who were treated with CAM therapies were more likely to have a caretaker who used such therapies. Twelve (40%) of 30 families who reported using either an herbal or homeopathic remedy, also used a prescription or over-the-counter medication at the same time to treat their child. Thirty-nine of 55 families (70.9%) reported informing their child's physician of their use of CAM therapies.
Conclusion: CAM therapies are frequently used to treat children. Most parents who use CAM therapies to treat their children use such therapies themselves. Large proportions of children who are taking herbal supplements are also taking prescription or over-the-counter medications concurrently.