I am not a doctor, nurse, therapist, or medical technician. I do not own a hyperbaric chamber, and I have not received hyperbaric therapy. I chose to write this post because a few readers of the Beyond Injury blog asked me to summarize the benefits and complications of hyperbaric therapy in the treatment of brain injury.
Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (also known as “HBO therapy” and “HBOT”) is a medical treatment that allows patients to breathe pure oxygen inside a chamber pressurized up to 2.5 times the normal atmospheric pressure. Pure oxygen delivered at increased pressure raises the amount of oxygen carried by blood. According to Jacobi Hyperbaric, the oxygen saturation “results in more oxygen being delivered to the organs and tissues in the body” which “improves the benefits of certain antibiotics, activates white blood cells to fight infection, and promotes the healing process in chronic wounds.”
According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (“FDA”) website, the FDA has approved HBO therapy for the following conditions:
- Decompression sickness
- Air or gas embolism
- Carbon monoxide poisoning
- Types of gangrene
- Crush injury
- Enhanced healing of selected problem wounds, such as in diabetic patients
- Exceptional blood loss anemia
- Osteomyelitis, a bone infection
- Delayed radiation injury
- Skin grafts and flaps
- Thermal burns
- Intercranial abscess
In spite of what you have heard, or seen on the internet, the FDA has not approved the use of hyperbaric chambers or HBO therapy as a cure for:
- Alzheimer’s Disease
- Bell’s Palsy
- Brain Injury
- Cerebral Palsy
- Heart Disease
- Multiple Sclerosis
- Parkinson’s Disease
- Spinal Cord Injury
- Sport’s Injury
I am not suggesting pure oxygen treatments cannot improve or cure the listed ailments, I am only stating the FDA has not approved hyperbaric treatment of the listed ailments. A slightly stronger statement comes from a report published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information. According to the report, “Possible complications during HBO therapy include barotraumatic lesions (middle ear, nasal sinuses, inner ear, lung, teeth), oxygen toxicity (central nervous system, lung), confinement anxiety, and ocular effects (myopia, cataract growth).
Although it is possible the reported effects were coincidental, and not caused by the therapy, the potential complications are sufficient to discourage me from trying the treatment. The report concludes by stating the “predominant complication is represented by pressure equalization problems within the middle ear. Serious complications rarely occur.” In other words, many things could go horribly wrong, but rarely do.
The best answer I can provide at this time is each person who is considering HBO therapy must determine for him or herself whether or not the potential benefits outweigh the potential complications.
Call to Action
If you have any comments about the benefits or complications of HBO therapy, please use the comment box below this post to share your comments.
Thanks to Jacobi Hyperbaric; U.S. Food and Drug Administration; PubMed; Bing; National Institutes of Health; National Center for Biotechnology Information; Google; and all the organizations that, directly or indirectly, made it possible for me to include the picture or text in this post.