Can Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy Ease the Symptoms of Autism?

 Oxygen Autism is a complex disorder that continues to mystify researchers and parents alike. There are many unproven treatments rich in anecdotal evidence, but without strong scientific backing. Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT) is one such treatment that is gaining popularity among parents of children with autism.

HBOT was originally developed for deep-sea divers suffering from “the bends,” a painful condition caused by ascending from deep sea levels too quickly. It has also been proven effective in treating wounds that are resistant to healing, due to diabetes or other conditions, and to treat the long term side-effects of radiation therapy in cancer patients. More recently, it has been marketed as therapy for everything from sports injuries to traumatic brain injury.

According to K. Paul Stoller, MD, FACHM, HBOT revives mitochondria in brain neurons. In a paper published on the TACA website, he writes, “Hyperbaric therapy is perhaps the safest procedure in medicine at the pressures used to treat brain injuries and children on the spectrum.” He also cites a study by the Canadian government on the use of HBOT to treat patients with Cerebral Palsy. Eighty percent of the children showed improvements in cognition, speech, and other functions. He also references a 2005 study published in the journal Pediatrics showing a reversal of brain damage in children diagnosed with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. You can read the full report here

Others are not as enthusiastic about the benefits, and possible side effects, of HBOT. David Lambert, a hyperbaric oxygen specialist at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, told the Wall Street Journal, “You’ll find a lot of people touting these medicinal benefits, the problem is, there’s no evidence to support it.” He goes on to warn of potential side-effects, including seizures and collapsed lungs, real risks that medical spas and alternative medical centers may be ill-equipped to deal with. You can read the full article here

There are also companies like Oxy-Health LLC offering inflatable HBOT chambers for home use starting at $7000. These can be dangerous, especially when used by non-professionals who are untrained in the safe way to use the equipment. Oxygen is highly flammable, and proper precautions must be taken to avoid the possibility of fire. Individuals using the tanks in their home would also be unable to handle the medical side effects that may arise from use.

Suffocation is another risk. In 2011, a 19 year-old man with autism died when the oxygen valve disconnected in the HBOT tank his parents had purchased for their home. The man’s parents, Amy and Robert Sparks, filed a lawsuit against Oxy-Health LLC.

Last month Autism Daily Newscast reported on Simon Fraser University (SFU) in Canada has receiving $500,000 as funding for its Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT) research from Central City Brewing and Distillery President Darryl Frost, and his wife, Lee Frost.

As of now, there is no hard evidence that HBOT can ease the symptoms of autism, but there are many who claim it has benefited them personally. There are studies in the works, but it will be years before any definitive results are in. In the meantime, anyone considering HBOT for treatment of autism symptoms should only do so under the supervision of a qualified medical professional.

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