Hyperbaric oxygen therapy for brain injury seems to have many promising benefits.
But what is oxygen therapy, and how does it work? That’s what we’re finding out in today’s article.
To help you decide whether oxygen therapy is right for you, we’ll look at the science behind it, as well as the evidence both for and against its use in brain injury treatment.
Understanding Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) involves lying in an enclosed chamber breathing pure oxygen for 60-90 minutes.
The air in the chamber is pressurized at about twice the atmospheric pressure of sea level.
The increased pressure compresses oxygen molecules, which lets the body absorb ten times the amount of oxygen it does under normal pressure.
HBOT has proven effective at treating many different health conditions.
Its primary use is treating people with decompression sickness (also known as the “bends”) but it’s also approved by the FDA to treat carbon monoxide poisoning and wounds that won’t heal.
Because oxygen therapy has proven effective in healing different types of wounds, many doctors believe that it could alleviate traumatic brain injury symptoms.
How Does Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy for Brain Injury Work?
The human body has its own natural healing mechanism. And the main fuel for this mechanism is oxygen.
Unfortunately, after an injury, the body often can’t get enough oxygen to fuel its healing process. This is especially the case in traumatic brain injury.
When a part of the body does not receive the right amount of oxygen, this leads to a condition known as hypoxia. Hypoxia slows down the healing process and if left untreated can cause cell death.
Hypoxia is one of the major secondary brain injuries that doctors try to prevent when treating someone with brain injury.
However, once hypoxia sets in, it’s almost impossible to reverse.
That’s where hyperbaric oxygen therapy comes in.
The idea is, if the brain receives enough concentrated oxygen, this will dramatically boost the healing process and reverse the effects of hypoxia!
That’s the idea anyway, but is there any evidence that it actually works?
Evidence for Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy for Brain Injury Patients
The evidence for Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy for brain injury treatment appears mixed.
Some research, such as the research of Dr. Efrati, a neuroscientist from Tel Aviv University, has shown considerable improvements in patients treated with HBOT.
The patients in the study were stroke victims with severe disabilities. By the end of the study, the patients had partially regained their sensation, language skills, and movement!
They also showed increased brain activity in damaged area and increased cerebral blood flow.
Another study showed improvement in cognition and a reduction of post-concussion symptoms.
On the other hand, some double-blind studies show no significant difference in improvement between those treated with HBOT and those who received a placebo treatment.
Others suggest that HBOT is effective within the first several hours after brain injury, where it may prevent secondary brain injuries from developing.
After that, the evidence is less conclusive.
Is Oxygen Therapy a Sham?
As you can see, oxygen therapy is no miracle treatment. It’s hit or miss as far as results go.
However, that still doesn’t make it a complete sham.
There is solid evidence from brain scans that demonstrate that HBOT does indeed increase blood flow to the brain, which could have a positive impact on recovery.
It’s important to note that even supporters of HBOT don’t believe it is useful on its own. Instead, they all agree it’s best used alongside traditional traumatic brain injury treatments.
HBOT gives your brain’s natural plasticity a boost, but you still will need to activate that plasticity through repetitive exercises.
Is Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy Safe for Brain Injury Patients?
Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy is generally safe, though there are some minor risks involved.
- Inner ear damage. Increased air pressure can cause middle ear damage and hearing problems. Plugging your nose and blowing out will relieve pressure in your ears and prevent damage.
- Seizures. Too much oxygen can trigger seizures in people with epilepsy after TBI. Anti-seizure meds can help with that however.
Finally, people with claustrophobia or other anxiety disorders may have issues lying in an enclosed chamber.
As always, talk to your doctor before starting this therapy.
Since no scientific consensus exists on the usefulness of hyperbaric oxygen therapy for brain injury, the FDA has not officially approved it for TBI treatment.
As a result, insurance and Medicare do not currently cover it. This means if you do try it, you’ll have to pay cash.
You’ll also want to make sure you receive HBOT at a medical facility with a trained doctor on staff.
Should You Try Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy for Brain Injury?
In the end, hyperbaric oxygen therapy is a relatively harmless therapy that could hold a lot of promise for brain injury patients, though the scientific verdict is still out.
The choice is ultimately up to you; we just hope this article has given you the information you need to make the best decision for your recovery.