A new study finds that approximately 13% of parents turn to alternative therapies to treat their children’s asthma. The findings, published in the Canadian Respiratory Journal, further suggest that this trend is associated with a two-fold higher rate of poor asthma control in children.

“Previous studies have shown that close to 60% of parents believe that complementary and alternative medicines are helpful,” says Francine M. Ducharme, senior study author and professor at the Université de Montréal and pediatrician at the Sainte-Justine University Hospital Research Center. “Yet, well designed studies have failed to show any evidence that therapies such as acupuncture, homeopathy, chiropractic medicine, or herbal therapy are effective in asthma. Parents may not be aware of the risk associated with the use of alternative medicine, including adverse reactions, possible interactions with conventional asthma therapy, as well as delay in taking, and compliance with, effective asthma therapy.”

Questionnaires were completed by more than 2000 families in which parents were asked if they used any form of alternative medicine to help alleviate their children’s asthma and to specify which type. Health information, patient demographics, asthma severity, and control were then compiled.

The findings showed that over 8 years, the use of alternative therapy in Canada remained stable at around 13%, a five-fold lower rate than in the United States. The researchers also found that there was a relationship between alternative and complementary medicine use and preschool age, Asian ethnicity, episodic asthma, and poor asthma control. The most commonly reported alternative therapies included supplemental vitamins, homeopathy, and acupuncture.

According to Ducharme, most of the children receiving these therapies were younger than 6. “This is particularly troublesome, given that there is no evidence that these therapies are effective and preschool age children suffer more asthma flare-ups requiring an emergency department visit than all other age groups,” she added.

The researchers hope the study reminds parents that the effectiveness of alternative and complementary medicine has not been proven and that it may in fact interfere with effective conventional therapy.

Ducharme recommends that parents first discuss the use of alternative or complementary medicine with their child’s physician.

In addition, she adds, “[The study] should also serve as a reminder to health care professionals to inquire about alternative therapy use, particularly if asthma is not well controlled, and initiate appropriate counseling.”

Source: Université of Montréal