Hyperbaric chamber therapy is used to treat a variety of conditions.
What is Hyperbaric Chamber Therapy?
In hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT), patients enter a hyperbaric chamber to increase the oxygen in the blood. A hyperbaric oxygen chamber is a special type of pressure chamber where the air pressure is “about two and a half times higher” than normal to help the blood to deliver more oxygen to tissues and organs. Hyperbaric therapy is used for wound treatments, gas embolism, bone infections, burns, carbon monoxide poisoning, decompression sickness from SCUBA diving, necrotizing infections, radiation injury, skin grafts, and more.1 Recently, HBOT (or HBO therapy) has been found to be effective for hearing issues due to “idiopathic sudden deafness, acoustic trauma or noise-induced hearing loss”. HBOT may improve “late radiation tissue injury” as well, in the “bone and soft tissues of the head and neck”. There is “tentative evidence for HBOT in traumatic brain injury”.2 Risks of hyperbaric oxygen therapy are rare, as it is usually safe. The risks include middle ear injuries, lung collapse, seizures, temporary nearsightedness, or even fire.3 Patients can wear only cotton clothing, and no cosmetics, jewelry, or even wigs. Carbonated drinks and alcohol should be avoided four hours before treatment. Smoking cessation is also recommended, during the period of time patients are treated, so that patients receive the full benefit of the treatments and maximize the amount of oxygen that can be transported. Patients are placed in a clear acrylic chamber, and they are monitored by a technician. During the treatment, patients can rest, watch a movie, or listen to music. Technicians need to be informed of any congestion, cold, or flu symptoms prior to the treatment. They must also know if they patient is pregnant, has changed medications, is diabetic, or if they have skipped a meal before the treatment.4
Traumatic Brain Injuries and HBOT
Joe Namath, a retired professional football player, suffered many injuries over his famous career, including multiple concussions. Often, football players undergo surgeries and are routinely prescribed pain and anti-inflammatory medications. In Namath’s case, it was Butazolidin and Percocet, which eventually led to him combining those medications with alcohol. Namath quit drinking in 2004. Multiple concussions can have effects on the brain that last a lifetime, including memory issues, blurred vision, dizziness, and slurred speech. Dr. Lee Fox had been working on using HBOT for brain injuries. The director of hyperbarics at Jupiter Medical Center, Dr. Barry Miskin, and Fox made a treatment protocol for Namath. For over half of a year “Namath overcame his tendency toward claustrophobia and breathed hyperbaric oxygen for an hour a day, five days a week”. After 120 treatments, the SPECT scans (which show the brain’s blood flow) “looked bright and symmetrical” and there is “renewed blood flow on both sides of the brain”. The cognitive tests showed improvement and the areas of the brain that had “decreased activity…now are actually functioning normally”. Miskin and Fox are now co-directors of the Joe Namath Neurological Research Center, which is being used to treat brain injury patients with hyperbaric oxygen. Mainstream science suggests the effects of the therapy may be a placebo effect and that SPECT scans do not measure tissue structure; therefore, they “aren’t useful for diagnosing particular kinds of trauma”, since blood flow can change with head position, mood, or even diet. In prior research, where control groups had been used, subjects who received “pressurized, purified oxygen” and those who received a placebo all showed some improvement. In contrast, Fox and Miskin are hoping to expand their traumatic brain injury (TBI) work with a bigger clinical trial. There had not been a control group in Jupiter.5
Find out more about head trauma and treatments.