Kaiya Gilgeous, 7, has acupunture treatments at WisdomWell in Columbia every three weeks. Her mother, Chrystina Gilgeous, credits the treatments with keeping Kaiya healthy this winter -- a marked improvement from past winters when coughing and wheezing hindered her breathing.

Kaiya Gilgeous, 7, has acupunture treatments at WisdomWell in Columbia every three weeks. Her mother, Chrystina Gilgeous, credits the treatments with keeping Kaiya healthy this winter -- a marked improvement from past winters when coughing and wheezing hindered her breathing. (Doug Kapustin / Baltimore Sun / December 18, 2013)

For four years, Kristin Duda says her son, Owen, was the healthiest sick kid around.

He ate and drank well, getting plenty of fruits, vegetables and milk. He loved to run and play. And he hardly ever had a fever or runny nose.

But that cough. That loud, constant cough. It began when he turned 1 and never went away, Duda says.

To help Owen find relief, Duda and her husband, Andy, propped him up in bed. They regularly visited his pediatrician and an allergist, who told them Owen had symptoms of an upper respiratory infection and asthma. They followed doctors’ orders, giving him different antibiotics and asthma medications. They taught Owen how to irrigate his nasal passages with a saline solution. And they cared for him after sinus surgery, done to reduce his nasal and sinus inflammation.

“We were doing everything we could,” says Duda, an Ellicott City resident. “We had days on end of treatments and lost nights.”

The cough persisted.

Three weeks after the surgery, 4-year-old Owen started coughing again. Duda had had enough.

“I was willing at that point to do anything,” she says. “I didn’t want to give him another bottle of medicine.”

Seeking solutions, Duda turned to integrative care -- care that combines complementary or alternative therapies with those practiced by mainstream medical doctors.

Duda is one of many parents across Howard County embracing this approach, which treats the whole person -- body, mind and spirit -- and not just the disease. Their reasons range from wanting a second opinion to searching for ways to alleviate food sensitivities or symptoms of autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

Integrative medicine supporters say the practice offers a more comprehensive, natural approach to children’s overall health. But the concept still has skeptics, especially when it comes to safety.

“The misperception is that there is no science -- that we’re taking advantage of local parents,” says Dr. Pamela Compart, a developmental pediatrician and founder of HeartLight Healing Arts in Columbia.

The science is there, she says. And so are the results.

What is integrative medicine

The terms integrative, complementary and alternative medicine are often used interchangeably. But according to the National Center for Complementary and Alternate Medicine (NCCAM), a division of the National Institutes of Health, they have different meanings.

Complementary medicine usually refers to using a non-mainstream approach together with conventional medicine -- medicine practiced by a medical doctor (M.D.) or doctor of osteopathy (D.O.), as well as health professionals like registered nurses and physical therapists. Alternative means using a non-mainstream approach in place of conventional medicine.

Integrative medicine covers a range of non-mainstream health care approaches. It can include natural products like herbs, vitamins, minerals and probiotics, as well as mind and body practices like acupuncture, massage therapy, spinal manipulation, meditation and even yoga.

Compart prefers the term “functional medicine,” which addresses the underlying cause of a disease or illness.

“Functional medicine is giving the body what it needs and getting rid of what may be interfering with the goal of optimizing function,” she says.

Whether integrative or functional, both forms of medicine address the whole person and not just a set of symptoms, experts say.