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Complementary and Alternative Medicine for Common Kid Problems

What if your pediatrician handed you a prescription for honey instead of an antibiotic? Sweet! While Western medicine has lots of tools at its disposal to treat children, it's not the only option, and more doctors and parents are recognizing this. As many as 40 percent of kids today have received some form of complementary or alternative medicine (CAM). These treatments include oils, yoga, and probiotics. “It's all about integrating complementary therapies that are safe and effective with conventional therapies that are safe and effective,” says Lawrence Rosen, M.D., chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics Section on Complementary and Integrative Medicine and a pediatrician in Oradell, NJ.

The one caveat: There isn't a lot of scientific research out there for alternative treatments, so parents should use common sense, says Kathi Kemper, M.D., director of the Center for Integrative Medicine at Wake Forest Baptist Health. “You don't need to ask a doctor before using chicken soup or giving your child a massage, but do ask about starting a new herbal remedy,” she advises. Since these supplements are not regulated, Dr. Kemper recommends always choosing products labeled with a USP seal—from the United States Pharmacopeia—which verifies the quantity and quality. How to use CAM treatments wisely:

Issue: Upset stomach

Treatment: Probiotics

Ages: All ages

What it does: Probiotics can shorten the life of stomach bugs and reduce antibiotic side effects like diarrhea. Dr. Rosen typically recommends an over-the-counter probiotic supplement like Florastor Kids or Culturelle. Consult your doctor about dosage.

Issue: ADHD

Treatment: Yoga

Ages: 3 and up

What it does: There's no single magic bullet for ADHD, but for many kids, a mind-body technique like yoga gives them a way to move their body and develop breathing strategies that can help them focus and relax, says Dr. Rosen.

Issue: Earache

Treatment: Garlic oil eardrops

Ages: 6 months and up

What it does: “Garlic and olive oil are anti-inflammatories that can help ease the pain of an earache,” says Dr. Rosen. Create your own drops by mixing one tablespoon room-temperature olive oil with one clove of crushed garlic. Put two to three drops in the affected ear every four hours as needed for pain. Contact your doctor if your child develops a fever, there's fluid coming out of the ear, or if the earache gets worse after 48 hours.

Issue: Stress-related headache or stomachache

Treatment: Biofeedback

Ages: 5 and up

What it does: During a session, the child is connected to electrical sensors while the doctor teaches him breathing and relaxing skills to help ease pain. As the child alters his behavior, he sees the changes show up on a screen, much like in a video game.

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