The human body is about two-thirds oxygen, which plays a vital role in the breathing process, as well as the body’s metabolism. The air that we breath, at sea level, is 21% oxygen. Oxygen is absorbed by the blood stream into the lungs, and is then transported to the cells. Oxidation within these cells provides the energy needed to process the chemical and physical changes that continually take place in the human body. These processes include the build-up of new tissue, replacement of old tissue, conversion of food to energy, disposal of waste materials, reproduction etc.
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) enhances the body’s natural healing process by inhalation of 100% oxygen in a total hard body chamber, where atmospheric pressure is increased and controlled. With HBOT, oxygen is dissolved into all of the body’s fluids and can be carried to areas where circulation is diminished or blocked. In this way, extra oxygen can reach all of the body’s damaged tissue. The increased oxygen also enhances the ability of white blood cells to kill bacteria, reduces swelling and allows new blood vessels to grow more rapidly into the affected areas.
HBOT is often an appropriate addition to comprehensive treatment programs that include medical, nutritional, and other therapeutic modalities.
What it helps
Hyperbaric oxygen is used to treat all conditions which benefit from increased tissue oxygen availability. It can particularly assist those with circulatory problems, non-healing wounds, and stroke victims. These are issues where adequate oxygen cannot reach the damaged area and the body’s natural healing ability is unable to function properly. Many conditions such as cerebral palsy, head injuries, and chronic fatigue have responded favorably to HBOT.
In addition, oxygen improves alertness, reflexes, memory and apparently intelligence. It may offer the elderly a new weapon against senility and related disorders. Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s are reported to be responding to it.
How is it related to autism
According to research, mental performance in the human body can be improved by providing the brain with extra oxygen. Decrease of oxygen supply to the brain caused by carbon monoxide poisoning, air pollution, and choking/suffocation can create conditions like tiredness, depression, irritability, poor judgment and health problems. Increasing the oxygen supply to the brain and nervous system can reverse these conditions.
There have been numerous studies demonstrating that as much as 86% of children with autism have decreased blood flow to the brain, known as cerebral hypoperfusion. While the cause of this is still being researched, many suspect brain inflammation to be the core cause. Increased oxygen can reduce inflammation and allow blood flow to the brain where it can help to build new capillaries.
There are also numerous studies showing the correlation between gastrointestinal tract inflammation and autism. As many as 90% of children with autism have gastrointestinal symptoms (such as, diarrhea, constipation) and 68% have moderate to severe problems. Increased oxygen can reduce inflammation and allow healing to occur along the GI tract.
Parents have reported:
Children becoming calmer and more affectionate
Improved focus and attention
Improved bowel function
Less Sensory Disturbance
More “Connected” to Family
Does Insurance Cover it?
Most insurance companies will cover HBOT for certain diagnosis codes (like diving accidents, strokes etc). Please check the medical policy on your insurance providers page to identity which conditions are covered for the treatment.
Insurance and Medicare consider the following conditions for HBOT to be covered for payment:
Air or Gas Embolism
Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
Compartment Syndrome/Crush Injury/Other Traumatic Ischemias
Decompression Sickness (Bends)
Diabetic and Selected Wounds
Exceptional Blood Loss (Anemia)
Necrotizing Soft Tissue Infection
Osteoradionecrosis and Radiation Tissue Damage
Skin Grafts and (Compromised) Flaps
The following conditions are off-label which may or may not be covered by insurance or Medicare:
Autism (Insurance may cover the cost of HBOT if prescribed by an in-network doctor, with a diagnosis code of encephalopathy. United Healthcare, specifically, is known to cover this.)
Recovery from Plastic Surgery
Traumatic Brain Injury
How much does it cost?
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy can vary between $75 for a single, one hour, treatment at an HBOT clinic, to over a thousand dollars for a treatment at a large medical hospital. Many HBOT clinics have discounted package deals.
Due to the cost, many families find it cost effective to purchase or rent their own portable HBOT chamber, however, there is some controversy as to whether the soft chamber (allowed in-home) has the same benefits as the hard chamber (illegal in-home). A soft chamber is said to only provide mild hyperbaric oxygen benefits, whereas the hard chamber provides the true 100% oxygen for which most positive results are seen.
A typical mild HBOT session, in a soft chamber, will involve pressurisation to 1.3 ATA breathing 30% oxygen for about one hour. Under these conditions, each breath has an oxygen pressure of 0.4 ATA (296 mmHg) and the arterial pressure is likely to reach a more modest 0.3 ATA (230 mmHg). This is the same oxygen pressure that can be attained by breathing about 35% oxygen at sea level. More information is detailed here.
There are minor risks with all medical treatments, but overall, hyperbaric oxygen therapy is extremely safe. A 10 year study of 1500 patients receiving 2 hour treatments 1-2 times per day revealed the following side effects. This treatment is aggressive compared to normal HBOT treatment programs.
Inability to equalize inner ear pressure .37%
Paransasl sinus blocks .09%
Oxygen Convulsions .009%
Barotrauma to the ears and sinuses, caused by the change in air pressure, is the most common side effect. To minimize this risk, patients should learn techniques to promote adequate clearing of the ears during compression.
Some patients may experience changes in their vision during treatment (ie nearsightedness). These changes are usually minor and temporary, resolving within 6-8 weeks following treatment.
Oxygen toxicity is a rare side effect, caused by administering too much oxygen.
Active cancerous condition – Cancer tends to thrive in conditions with high blood flow, and increased oxygen can accelerate the rate of tumor growth. However an anti-angiogenic can provide the solution.
Asthma – It could result in a pneumothorax.
Chronic sinusitis – It could lead to possible barotrauma.
Congenital spherocytosis –Haemolysis might occur due to fragile red blood cells.
Claustrophobia – It might lead to increased anxiety.
Emphysema with CO2 retention – It might present a risk of pneumothorax.
High Fever –It could lower the threshold for seizures; temperature should be lowered before attempting therapy.
History of ear surgery –Patient might not be able to clear their ears.
History of seizures – It lowers the threshold for seizures. An increase in medication might be recommended.
Optic Neuritis – Rare cases of worsening vision and blindness have occurred.
Pacemaker – There is a possibility of device malfunction.
Thorax surgery – There is a small risk of air trapped in scarring caused during surgery.
Upper respiratory infections – Patients might have trouble clearing their ears.
Patients taking the following medications:
Doxorubicin (Adriamycin) – cardiotoxity may occur.
Cisplatinum – wound healing may be impaired.
Disulfiram (antabuse) – blocks the production of suproxide dismutase, which protects against oxygen toxicity.
Mafenide acetate (Sulfamylon) – wound healing may be impaired.
My personal experience
I, personally, wanted to try it before subjecting my son to it. I live near the Hyperbaric Therapy Center owned by Bill Schindler who is a leader in this therapy. He has introduced a number of major athletes to this, many of which own their own chambers now.
Bill told me a story about a woman who did HBOT while she was pregnant. In labor, the umbilical cord was tightly wound around the baby’s neck. The doctors were amazed that he suffered no ill effects from it…none, and she believed that his body being saturated with extra oxygen from HBOT aided in this.
I was 40 weeks pregnant at the time I tried it. I expected nothing. I was skeptical. I was being allowed to try it for free and I just wanted to see what it was like to sit in a low pressure soft chamber for an hour, to see how my ears would react etc. If I ever wanted to do it with my son, I wanted to know what to be prepared for.
At the time, being 40 weeks pregnant, I was experiencing horrible hip pain. It hurt to stand up from any sitting position and it hurt to walk. I did HBOT for 2 consecutive days. About an hour after my 2nd session, I got up from our recliner and I realized that my hip pain was gone…totally gone. There was no more ache, it didn’t hurt to walk etc. I felt energetic even. I was absolutely amazed. My husband is a professional athlete who deals with musclce fatigue and soreness, so I immediately said, “we need to get one of these.”
I took my son with me the 3rd time I tried it. He tolerated it really well. I made sure to have his sippy cup with us so he could drink as the chamber was being pressurized/depressurized. He had an Ipad and was totally happy. In fact, he didn’t want to get out when we were done.
I went into labor the following day and everything was a breeze. It went smoothly, there was very little pain and I recovered really quickly. I, honestly, attribute it to having the extra oxygen in my cells to recover from stress/inflammation.
We have not gone back due to cost, but it’s still on our list of things to try. I know many people it has helped, and some who didn’t see anything from it. I will say, if you have inflammation markers, it could definitely help…whether it be in the body or brain. Low pressure, typically is not dangerous, but there are some contraindications for it, so just be sure to ask questions and do your own research.