Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT) is a treatment in which pure oxygen is put into the body under an amount of pressure greater than normal atmospheric pressure in order to improve or correct any number of conditions. This is particularly important, as the body cannot fully heal itself without an adequate oxygen supply reaching its damaged areas.
When a person breathes normal air, which is 21% oxygen, the oxygen is carried through the body by the red blood cells. Because the air breathed in a conventional “hardshell” hyperbaric chamber is 100% oxygen, and because that oxygen is pushed into the body under pressure, that oxygen reaches parts of the body not otherwise reachable when breathing normally and it expedites the healing process. This oxygen under pressure dissolves into all the body’s tissues and fluids especially into the plasma, the lymph, and the cerebral spinal fluid, reaching the brain, and even creating new capillaries to feed injured areas.
What are the benefits of HBOT?
While individual cases vary, HBOT can bring new life to areas of the body and brain once thought lost to disease or injury. Treatments enhance healing, reduce swelling, and may improve motor coordination, physical balance, paralysis, memory, headaches and fatigue. Some patients report greater alertness and clarity of thinking as well. Conditions that may respond to HBOT include Autism, Brain Injury, Stroke, Lyme Disease, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Macular Degeneration, Fibromyalgia, Muscular Sclerosis, Peripheral Neuropathy, Cerebral Palsy, Dental Osteonecrosis, Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy, and a variety of injuries. Hospitals conventionally use HBOT for a more limited list of conditions which include wound-care, diabetic foot wound healing, crush injuries, radiation injuries, carbon monoxide poisoning, decompression sickness, thermal burns, gas gangrene and air embolisms.
What can one expect during a treatment?
There are two basic types of chambers that may be used. One is a multiplace chamber in which multiple people are treated simultaneously in one large chamber with an acrylic hood over each person’s head. The other, the Monoplace Chamber, holds one adult or one child at a time, though, depending upon the size of the people, a child may be able to go into the chamber together with an adult.
In the Monoplace Chamber, the patient lies on a bed inside a closed chamber which is made comfortable with a mattress, pillow and blanket. The chamber is made of clear acrylic, so the patient can see through it to watch television or a DVD. A sound system built into the chamber makes it possible to connect an I-Pod or listen to CD’s for the duration of the treatment. Also built-in is an intercom system which makes it possible for the patient to communicate with the technician, the doctor, or a family member, who may be present.
Once the patient is lying comfortably inside the chamber, the door is closed and oxygen slowly begins to enter. The patient will hear a whooshing noise, as the pressurization begins. A doctor trained in Hyperbaric Medicine will have prescribed the appropriate amount of pressure designed to treat the particular condition being addressed.
The feeling of going down to pressure in a hyperbaric chamber has been compared to the sensation of taking off or landing in an airplane. One’s ears may feel the pressure or feel clogged. To deal with this sensation the HBOT technician teaches the patients simple techniques for clearing the ears. That technician will be able to adjust the rate of compression according to the patient’s tolerance and will be present throughout treatment in order to respond to the patient’s needs.
Treatments usually last one or one and a half hours plus some extra minutes at the beginning and the end of treatment for going down to the prescribed pressure and for returning back to normal atmospheric pressure.
Can HBOT help autism?
Regardless of the furious debate over the cause of the widespread epidemic of autism, it appears that HBOT is a useful treatment modality for this condition. The March 16, 2009 issue of Science Daily reported on the first randomized, controlled, double-blind multi-center study to evaluate the usefulness of HBOT for children with autism (D.A. Rossingnol, et. al., BMC Pediatrics, March 2009.). Those children in the treatment group were reported to have experienced beneficial changes in their functioning, language skills, social interaction, eye contact and sensory/cognitive awareness compared to children who were not treated with HBOT. Other hyperbaric medical offices who randomly treated children with autism have similarly reported that the majority of these patients experienced positive changes in their conditions following hyperbaric oxygen therapy. These changes were confirmed by a brain image called the SPECT scan, which was performed before and after treatment with hyperbaric oxygen and revealed positive improvements in the brain following a series of perhaps 40 treatments. HBOT should be used in combination with other treatment approaches, as it works synergistically with a variety of these modalities to boost brain function and to maximize a child’s full potential.