Physical Therapy

Hyperbaric Oxygen Treatment – A Promising Therapy to Treat Children with Autism

It dates back to 1930s when hyperbaric oxygen therapy was first introduced as a treatment modality by Shaw and Behnke. As they brought forth pressurized hyperbaric chambers in order to attend patients with decompression sickness. Since then it has been in practice to treat multiple health disorders. But over the recent years, HBOT has been popularized as a mode of complimentary therapy to treat autism. The recent studies have drawn a connection between autistic children and HBO therapy: Autism in children occurs due to chronic inflammation in certain areas of their brain and HBOT has strong anti-inflammatory effects to heal those affected brain tissues providing relief from pain.

What is Autism?

Autism is mainly a neuro-developmental disorder. The symptoms of which manifest mostly during infancy and the problems persist till adulthood. Children afflicted with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) develop cognitive difficulty, impairment in social interaction, and repetitive behaviors. It is called a multi-factorial disease as it may cause due to both genetic and environmental influences. Some of the environmental triggers that may cause autism are stress, diet, toxins, chemicals, pathogens etc. There has been no ultimate cure found to this disease till date.

In the past few decades, the growth rate of ASD has raised by 600%, which calls serious attention. The statistics of United States reveals more shocking data as 1 in every 91 children has been suffering from autism spectrum disorder. Though several modes of treatment are in use for treating autism, direct researches on the potential benefits of those treatments have been conducted only for a few out of the lot. For many years, several experimentation and researches have been conducted on the effectiveness of oxygen therapy in improving autism and the results derived are satisfactory though not FDA approved.

How Is Oxygen Being Supplied to the Body in HBOT?

The entire process takes place inside a closed hyperbaric chamber where the atmospheric pressure is made higher (greater than 1 ATM) than the normal air pressure. The contentment of pure oxygen is raised from the usual 21% to 100% inside the hyperbaric chamber. Each session approximately lasts for 60 – 90 Minutes depending on conditions of the respective patients. The patient is made to lie down inside the chamber and initially, the pressure is increased slowly allowing his or her ear to acclimatize with the new air pressure. Given ample time for equilibration the air is then supplied at the target pressure usually for 60 minutes. An autistic patient is generally given 30-40 sessions of oxygen treatment though this is entirely case dependent. It is safe to be given HBO therapy at oxygen pressures below 3 ATM and less than 2 hours in each session.

During the treatment session, the patient is made to inhale oxygen in his or her highest capacity. This pure oxygen gets transported in the entire body through body fluids and heals the damaged or affected tissues.

How Does HBO Therapy Benefit Autistic Kids?

  1. Provides Relief from Inflammation: Both human, as well as animal studies, have shown that HBOT comes with potent anti-inflammatory properties. In support of that statement, a number of studies found that HBOT therapy provides a significant boost to the production pro-inflammatory cytokines. For the uninitiated, cytokines are minute protein particles of our body which play a key role in cell signaling. Alongside this, HBOT therapy has also been found to increase the amount of anti-inflammatory IL-10 cytokines.
  1. Reverses Hypoxia: Hypoxia is a ripple effect of inflammation and cerebral hypoperfusion occurring in autistic children. Studies have found that HBOT can be used to overcome the harmful effects of cerebral hypoperfusion by providing pure oxygen to the brain. Furthermore, if hypoxia is a result of cerebral hypoperfusion then the unadulterated oxygen delivered to the brain through HBOT therapy was found to improve the condition.
  1. Increases Mitochondrial Function: Unlike inflammation and cerebral hypoperfusion, the occurrence of mitochondrial dysfunction in ASD patients is not that widespread. In the past, there were limited options for treating mitochondrial dysfunction. However, with HBOT being considered as an alternative treatment for ASD, it is also being used to counter the increase in mitochondrial function in autistic children.

Research and studies have found that mitochondrial dysfunction is a result of hypoxia, as only 0.3 percent of oxygen inhaled by autistic patients reaches the mitochondria of the cells. HBOT therapy increases the amount of pure oxygen reaching the mitochondria improving its function.

  1. Reduces Oxidative Stress: Oxidative stress is one of the many autism-related health issues that have been observed in autistically challenged children. HBOT therapy has been found to reduce oxidative stress in autistic kids without increasing the production of reactive oxygen species. Delivering oxygen at a pressure of less than 2.0 ATM has been found to be beneficial for reducing oxidative stress in children.
  1. Regularizes Blood Flow: There are several areas of the brain in an autistically challenged individual where the blood flow is impaired. HBOT therapy improves blood flow in those damaged areas and reduces mitochondrial dysfunction, enhances neurotransmitter abilities, and boosts new cell production.

Final Takeaway:

Slowly and steadily, HBOT therapy is becoming a popular treatment option for parents of autistically challenged children. Several studies and researches till date have documented the benefits of using HBOT on autistic kids, after observing significant improvement in their behavioral and psychological health.  Although HBOT therapy is yet to get the approval of the FDA, medical experts are continuing to probe further to get new information on this off-label treatment.

References:

1) Rossignol DA. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy might improve certain pathophysiological findings in autism. Medical Hypotheses 2007.

2)Rossignol DA, Bradstreet JJ, Dyke KV, Schneider C, Freedendeld SH et al. Hyperbaric oxygen treatment in autism spectrum disorders. Medical Gas Research 2012.

3) Dost Muhammad Halepoto, Laila Y. AL-Ayadhi and Ahmed Attia A. Salam. Therapeutic Use of Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Journal of the College of Physicians and Surgeons Pakistan 2014. (https://jcpsp.pk/archive/2014/Jul2014/14.pdf)

4) M. Markley. Treating Children with Autism Using Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy. (http://www.airoxtechnologies.com/downloads/)

5) Image Credit: https://emedicine.medscape.com

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