The American Academy of Pediatrics acknowledges that more young patients are undergoing acupuncture and other alternative therapies, and an article in its journal, Pediatrics, says a growing number of pediatric generalists and subspecialists are offering these services. It also urges doctors to seek information on such practices when families express interest, evaluate them on their scientific merits and pass information to parents.
Anderson and other doctors said acupuncture is an important and safe adjunct to traditional treatments for children. A 2008 review of studies published in the Journal of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology cited evidence that acupuncture is effective for preventing nausea after surgery in children and for alleviating pain. It said there's some evidence that it can help children with allergy symptoms but pointed out that more study is needed.
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Anderson said she often does two to three treatments a week at first on a child, eventually tapering visits to once a month. Stephen Cowan, a New York pediatrician who is also a certified medical acupuncturist, said Western medicine is great for acute problems that often afflict kids, such as ear infections. But he said acupuncture can be extremely helpful for such chronic or difficult-to-treat problems as attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and asthma.
He related the case of a year-old boy who came to the hospital at 3 a.m. with an asthma attack. A nebulizer treatment wasn't working, Cowan said, so he decided to try acupuncture. The boy reacted calmly, and his pulse-oximeter readings went up to 95 percent, which is within the normal range.
"I'm not advocating replacing Western treatments. I'm asking: Where can [acupuncture] serve best in the system of medicine pervasive in our culture?" said Cowan, author of the ADHD book "Fire Child, Water Child." "Acupuncture doesn't cure infection. But I find it very useful in preventive care," such as alleviating stress, he said.