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Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy

People wonder about hyperbaric oxygen therapy and what it can do.

Hyperbaric oxygen is the delivery of oxygen at pressures greater than the atmospheric pressure, similar to pressures that one might experience from diving to the bottom of a deep swimming pool, or in the case of the larger chambers, even deeper. During a hyperbaric oxygen treatment, oxygen is delivered at high concentrations under increased pressure which forces oxygen into cells. This can benefit the cells in a variety of ways. It can improve blood cell formation, reduce inflammation, improve cognitive function and help heal tissues with compromised blood flow such as in burns and chronic infections. Athletes find that hyperbaric oxygen therapy helps reduce fatigue and improves recovery time from extensive work outs.

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is used traditionally in medicine to help heal diabetic and pressure ulcers, chronic bone infections and for BENDS, or decompression illness which happens from scuba diving, if one rises to the surface too quickly. In a traditional medical setting, the chambers are large and exert a higher atmospheric pressure than smaller chambers found in homes and alternative medical clinics.

Mild hyperbaric oxygen therapy is gentler and is often used for other conditions experimentally such as Cerebral palsy. It may improve cognition, motor skills, speech and language, reduce spasticity and improve balance and walking. There are a number of studies showing improvement in children with cerebral palsy using HBOT treatments when compared to children with CP who did not receive HBOT.

Autism: HBOT treatments have been beneficial for some children with autism. It decreases inflammation, improves cognition and language, can improve sleep and help reduce gastrointestinal issues associated with autism. Many parents go into the chamber with their children to alleviate anxiety.

Traumatic Brain Injury and Stroke Recovery: Hyperbaric oxygen can help with neurologic conditions by helping the brain recover from injury by improving oxygenation, reducing inflammation, facilitating neuron healing and increasing proliferation of stem cells in the brain.

Chronic Inflammation: by increasing blood flow to an area and improving oxygenation, HBOT can reduce inflammation, fight infection, increase new blood vessel formation.  It is particularly beneficial in conditions with compromised healing and circulation such as diabetic ulcers diabetic and insect bites.

Risks: Mild hyperbaric oxygen therapy is extremely safe. However, there are minor risks and contraindications associated with treatments. Fluid in the ears or chronic ear congestion can be uncomfortable and there is a risk of ruptured ear drums. Sinus and nasal congestion can make being in the chamber uncomfortable, and it is recommended to avoid it until it has resolved. If you are claustrophobic, then this treatment can be anxiety provoking. Some people may experience some blurring of their vision following a dive. This is less of an issue with the mild chambers and usually clears within a few hours to a few days. Occasionally, it will last longer.

If you have cancer, HBOT is controversial. Some people use hyperbarics in conjunction with a ketogenic diet and have found it to be very helpful.

By Dr. Jennifer Means ND, LAc

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