First Do No Harm: Alternative Medicine Can Be Lethal to Kids
‘Natural’ remedies may seem a lot safer to give a child than some medication with a mysterious, multisyllabic name with a lot of x’s and y’s. But a just-published study has found that complementary and alternative medicine treatments can be dangerous and even fatal to children.
The study is published in the latest issue of Archives of Childhood Disease. Researchers reviewed the monthly reporting of adverse events associated with CAM to the Australian Paediatric Surveillance Unit between 2001 and 2003. 46 instances of adverse events, including four fatalities, associated with CAM were noted in this period. The children were aged 0 to 16. 64% of the cases reported were deemed severe, life threatening or fatal.
From the December 25th Science Daily:
Reports highlighted several areas of concern, including: the substitution of conventional medicine with CAM therapies; changes to medication regimens made by CAM practitioners; and dietary restriction in the belief that this would cure symptoms.
In over three quarters of cases (77%) the adverse events were considered to be probably or definitely related to CAM, and in almost half of cases (44%) the paediatricians said the child had been harmed by a failure to use conventional treatment in favour of CAM therapies.
So why do parents still try echinacea for the common cold, or special diets that restrict foods, or massive doses of vitamins, or hyperbaric oxygen, or omega-5 fatty acids, just to name a few treatments in a very long list?
When your child is sick, life rotates around her or his needs, at least in our household. My husband Jim and I both work full-time and don’t have any family living nearby who can watch Charlie (who requires caregivers with special training, as he is on the moderate to severe end of the autism spectrum and minimally verbal). I well remember making many a harried call to my colleagues and students about my having to miss classes or a meeting, so I could take care of my sick boy. (And I’m very lucky to have a job that enables me to have a flexible work schedule and to do a fair amount of work from home.)
Like many parents, I’ve wished there was some quick remedy to help my child feel better. Charlie has had his share of antibiotics but these have the dreaded side-effects, not to mention croupy coughs, an endlessly runny nose, and on and on. (Though I’ll note that, now that he is older, he rarely gets sick and he prefers to go to school and do his usual activities, even if he has the sniffles or is a little under the weather).
Like many parents, I’ve also done my share of researching and reviewing other remedies. Look on the web and you’ll find a plethora involving CAM.
CAM has its attractions for the parent in need of an immediate solution. (Indeed, many parents—-us included—-have tried such remedies to help an autistic child, though the results are mixed, as are opinions about it—but this is a whole other topic I can’t even begin to address here.) What parent does not feel pressed for such a remedy, with a child hacking or spewing; a child in distress? But we need to be wary lest, in our haste to help a child, we don’t further harm her or him.
Photo by zimpenfish.