Background. In recent years investigators have reported widespread use of alternative medicine. Some herbal therapies have potentially harmful side effects as well as adverse interactions with medications. Data are lacking on the use in children and caregiver understanding of these products.

Objectives. To determine the reported use of herbal products among a pediatric emergency department population and to evaluate the caregivers’ understanding and source of information concerning these products.

Design/Methods. A convenience sampling of pediatric emergency department patients and their caregivers occurred during a 3-month period in 2001. The interview consisted of 18 questions regarding the types of non-Food and Drug Administration-regulated herbal products and home remedies used, general product knowledge and sources of information used by the child’s caregiver (including discussions with their child’s primary physician).

Results. One hundred forty-two (93%) of 153 families approached participated in the study. The mean patient age was 5.3 years (range: 3 weeks-18 years). Forty-five percent of caregivers reported giving their child an herbal product, and 88% of these caregivers had at least 1 year of college education. Of the children receiving these therapies, 53% had been given 1 type and 27% were given 3 or more in the past year. The most common therapies reportedly used were aloe plant/juice (44%), echinacea (33%), and sweet oil (25%). The most dangerous potential herbal and prescription medication combination reported was ephedra and albuterol in an adolescent with asthma. The most unusual products reportedly used included turpentine, pine needles, and cowchips. Of all people interviewed, 77% did not believe or were uncertain if herbal products had any side effects and only 27% could name a potential side effect. Sixty-six percent were unsure or thought that herbal products did not interact with other medications and only 2 people correctly named a drug interaction. Of the people who used these therapies, 80% reported either friends or relatives as their primary source of information. Only 45% of those giving their children herbal products report discussing the use with their child’s primary health care provider.

Conclusion. Herbal and home therapies are commonly used in this pediatric population. An unexpectedly wide variety of products were reportedly given to this patient population. Caregivers reported limited knowledge regarding potential adverse medication interactions and side effects. Limited discussions with the child’s primary health care provider were reported. It is therefore important for health care providers to have knowledge about herbal medications, to inquire about their use and to educate families about the risk/benefit as well as potential interactions these products may have with over-the-counter and prescription medications.

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