Background The use of ‘complementary’ or ‘alternative’ medicine continues to rise in patients with skin disease, especially in those with chronic, inflammatory dermatoses.
Objectives To qualify and quantify the usage of complementary medicine (CM) in children with atopic dermatitis (AD) in secondary care.
Methods A face-to-face structured questionnaire study of 100 consecutive children with AD and their parent or guardian.
Results The mean age of the children interviewed was 7·3 years (median age 6·0 years, range 0·6–17·1) and ethnic origin was 59% white, 35% Indian, 3% Afro-Caribbean and 3% mixed race. Forty-six of 100 patients (46%) had used, or were currently using, CM. Of the 54 patients who had not yet used CM, 17 of 54 (31%) said they intended to try this in the future. The most commonly used CM was Chinese herbal medicine by 20 of 46 patients (43% of those who had used CM), followed by herbal medicine (41%) and homeopathy (35%). Of 74 patients using CM, 26 (35%) felt their AD had improved while 39 of 74 (53%) reported that it had remained unchanged. Twenty-six of 46 (56%) CM users in this study would not recommend CM to other patients with AD. There was a strong association between the use of CM and ethnicity (P = 0·01). Half of the patients who had used CM (23 of 46) had used it on the recommendation of family or friends with skin disease, 17 of 46 (37%) from family or friends without skin disease and three of 46 (6%) each from health professionals or from the media or internet. Twenty-five of 46 (54%) of CM users did so because conventional treatment was not working, and eight of 46 (17%) because they were worried about the side-effects of conventional treatment. While 39 of 100 (39%) of all patients felt that CM was safer than conventional medicine, only 14 of 100 felt it was more efficacious. Fifty-one of 100 were happy to combine both types of treatment and 66 of 100 felt that CM should be available from the National Health Service.
Conclusions In a population of children with AD attending a teaching hospital clinic in Leicester, U.K., 63% use or intend to use CM. This use is associated with ethnicity.