Pediatric Complementary, Alternative Medicine: CAM for Children

CAM Use in Children?

Many of us seek complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) remedies. But how many of us look to CAM remedies for our children? How widespread is CAM for children?

It was recently reported that nearly 12% of all children in the United States have used some form of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM).

Based on the National Health Interview Survey of 2007, a group of researchers at Harvard Medical School gathered information on CAM use among more than 9,000 children younger than 18 years. Based on these data, the authors estimated that greater than 8 Million children below the age of 18 years used some CAM remedy during the year these data were collected (2007).

Their findings were published in the February issue of Pediatrics, 2010.

This study focused on chiropractic and osteopathy, homeopathy, yoga, herbal and natural products, and other similar CAM remedies. They did not include common supplements such as vitamins.

Like Parent, Like Child

Not surprisingly, they reported that the used of CAM among children was much more likely among children whose parents also used CAM remedies: like parent, like child.

CAM for Chronic Illnesses

CAM use was also more likely among these groups of children:

  • Children with multiple and complicated heart conditions
  • Adolescents aged 12-17 years
  • Children for whom conventional medical care had been either delayed or avoided due to cost
  • Children with chronic conditions such as pain, anxiety, stress, and sinusitis

The use of CAM in those with chronic conditions often represents a trial from patients who are disillusioned or frustrated with the lack of relief from conventional therapies.

Increased Prescription Drug Use Associated with Increased CAM Use

Use of CAM remedies was also associated with the use of prescription medications.

In other words, these people are more likely to be seeking ANY remedy that can help them. Think about the groups listed above – those with chronic illnesses are looking for anything that can help return them to health.

Dr. Birdee, the lead author of the study, commented that this association raises the potential for drug-herbal interactions. He noted that only about half of adult patients report their use of herbal and dietary supplements to their physicians.

Better Communication for Safety

Many physicians forget to ask about use of herbs or supplements by children. Many parents forget to mention supplements that their children are taking. Thus, it bears reminding everyone that we should be communicating our use of supplements to our doctors, and we doctors should be remembering to ask.

The authors of the study concluded that more information is needed on CAM remedies, especially in children. Studies are being conducted by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine at the National Institutes of Health. There website is an excellent resource.

Points for Parents:

  • Treat herbal and other nutritional supplements and vitamins with the same care and caution that you would for any other medication:
    • Store them out of reach of your children
    • Do not alter the dosing – use as any other medication: more is not necessarily better
    • Be cautious if pregnant or nursing – some medications, including herbs or supplements, can affect the developing fetus or nursing infant
    • Confirm the child’s diagnosis: you don’t want to be treating the wrong disorder, regardless of the remedy; unless you are a physician, avoid the temptation to diagnose
    • If your child experiences any reaction associated with conventional or CAM remedies, stop its use and contact your child’s physician

CAM in Children Resources:

  • The website for the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine at the National Institutes of Health is an excellent resource for further information:
  • Birdee, Phillips, Davis, Gardiner. Factors associated with pediatric use of complementary and alternative medicine. Pediatrics. 125: 249-256; 2010.
  • Breuner. Complementary medicine in pediatrics: a review of acupuncture, homeopathy, massage, and chiropractic therapies. Current Problems in Pediatric and Adolescent Health Care. 32: 353-384; 2002.
  • Committee on Children with Disabilities, American Academy of Pediatrics. Counseling families who choose complementary and alternative medicine for their child with chronic illness or disability. Pediatrics. 107: 598-601; 2001.
  • Mehta, Gardiner, Phillips, McCarthy. Herbal and dietary supplement disclosure to health care providers by individuals with chronic conditions. J Alternative Complementary Medicine. 14: 1263-1269; 2008.
  • Faust: A few words about being natural..


Hi, I’m Russell Faust, author of this medical education blog.

Russell Faust, PhD, MD boogordoctor

Image: Russell Faust

Let me know what topics are important to you and your child’s respiratory health. Join the conversation by leaving a comment / reply below, or email me any time.

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Until next time, remember … you can pick your friends, and you can pick your nose, but you can’t pick your friend’s nose (unless you’re a boogor doctor ;~D)



  1. Dr Faust,

    Thanks for this great website of yours. I am an orthopedic surgeon and recently my son was diagnosed with Pansinusitis following a CT done after recurrence of his otitis media.

    I came across your article about the boy you treated with saline nasal drops and since the comments are closed there, I am leaving one here.

    I need a little guidance on the issue.

    My son, 4 years old had been absolutely healthy and after he started going to school [2.5 years] he had a URI almost every month [about 10 per year] and on every occasion it was treated and resolved but for one episodes about 3 months back which got prolonged for 3 weeks.

    And in this episode also he did not have any symptoms except for stuffy nose.

    Nasal stuffiness, may be, never went away completely. He had slight earache with mild fever about 4 weeks back and was put on antibiotics. He became symptom free next day while on antibiotics.

    In spite of that a rupture of tympanic membrane resulted [Only symptom we noticed was restless in the night]. he was put on cefpodoxime and after 7 days the TM was found to be healed.

    Antibiotics were continued for 10 days.

    After 4 days of stopping antibiotics he again was restless while sleeping and complained pain in the ear {right, same ear as before} when asked.

    A ear drum was found congested and a nasal examination revealed discharge as well.

    A CT PNS showed pansinusitis.

    He has been put on nasal decongestants [Xylometazoline], pseudoephidrine, Cefprozil, ambroxol and multivitamins.

    In addition we are using steam and after I went through your article, saline drops as well.

    He is symptom free now after 4 days of therapy. I have already stopped xylometazoline drops.

    I am worried and I want to know how to proceed. How should it be checked whether sinuses have cleared or not.

    Any other thing that needs to done.

    Thanks for your time.

    • Russell A. Faust, PhD, MD says:

      Dear Dr. Arun Pal Singh,
      You honor me by visiting, and thank you for taking time to leave a comment.
      I am sorry for you son’s troubles, although they all sound familiar to me and the readers here.

      For children with recurrent or chronic otitis, and for recurrent or chronic sinusitis, there are 2 treatments that have proven efficacy in clinical trials: Xylitol, and probiotics. These links are for the articles on this site.

      Xylitol has been known from clinical trials starting in the 1970’s, and has been found through more basic research to help kill several pathogenic bacteria, as well as help inhibit bacterial adherence to the mucosa of our respiratory tract – both benefits, and both likely responsible for the clinical benefits that are reported in reducing otitis media and sinusitis.

      Probiotics have been shown to be similarly effective in reducing otitis and sinusitis. There have been 2 randomized clinical trials in children reported in the journal of Pediatrics – a high quality, peer-reviewed medical journal – that found significant reductions in URI’s in children taking daily probiotics. More basic research suggests that this effect is due to immune alterations in children on probiotics.

      In addition, although most children are very uncooperative with nasal saline rinses, I have several 4-year-olds in my clinical practice with chronic sinusitis who perform daily nasal saline rinses. The system that I use for my own children, and the one that I recommend for my patients, is the Nasopure system from Dr. Hana Solomon. Be sure to check out her site for for videos of children doing nasal saline rinses. Her site is an excellent resource for parents of children like yours!

      Please do leave a reply here to let us all know how it goes for you son!
      And thanks again for visiting,
      RF (Boogs)

  2. Thank you Dr Faust. I have already ordered Nasopure system and I am going to follow xylitol and Probiotics.

    Thanks for your time and valuable advice.

    I would update you on progress of my son.

    God bless you.

    • Russell A. Faust, PhD, MD says:

      Dr. Singh,
      You are very kind.
      I wish you the best for your son.
      Please do keep us posted on his progress.
      Best in health,
      RF (boogs)

  3. This strays from the subject of the article slightly, but my little girl went to see an allergist recently and I asked him about saline rinses, if he thought them useful. According to him the openings to the sinuses are so small, that water does not really get in there, so rinses are helpful only to the extent of loosening mucous that is not very deep in the nasal cavity (not within the sinuses). In other words it can help somewhat but because the saline rinse does not reach the infected areas, does not do much in helping to treat.
    What is your take on this, and is it true that sinus openings are generally so small, water will not enter?

    All the best

    • Russell A. Faust, PhD, MD says:

      H Francesco!
      Wow, another great question!
      I think that, in a general sense, your allergist is correct: you should not think of nasal saline rinses as “flushing out the sinuses”. The openings are simply too small for any of those rinses to flush in there. On the other hand, as the saline rinses do their job, and reduce inflammation, and reduce swelling, the sinus openings (“ostia”) WILL open up a little, and when this happens, many people / children with sinusitis report that they suddenly have a gush of foul, infected mucus rinse out of their nose with the saline rinse. I can speak from personal experience and say this is true. Therefore, some small amount of the rinse will get into the sinuses once the openings are healthy. At least, that’s my opinion based on a couple decades of using saline rinses myself, and hearing from my patients.
      Hope this helps.
      Thanks for visiting, and thanks so much for taking the time to share your experience and thoughts with us!
      Have a great Holiday season and New Year!
      RF (boogs)

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