Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy and Autism

Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy and Autism

oxygen tanks

If you are checking out this article you probably heard that hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) can help your child with autism. But how does HBOT work and can it really help children with autism?

Let’s explore this topic in greater detail.

What is hyperbaric oxygen therapy

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is a medical treatment that increases the amount of oxygen to the tissues and organs of the body by inhaling pure oxygen in a pressurized room or chamber. 

HBOT is often used to treat people with decompression sickness (a condition caused by a sudden drop in atmospheric pressure, such as when scuba diving), burns, carbon monoxide poisoning, and other conditions.

While this is interesting information, you are probably wondering what any of this has to do with helping your child with autism.  

Is hyperbaric oxygen therapy safe for children with autism?

Yes, HBOT is generally considered safe for children with autism unless they have other pre-existing conditions like lung damage or claustrophobia. 

However, before undergoing any form of treatment, we would recommend that you discuss it with your child’s doctor.

The case for using HBOT for children with autism

The initial hypothesis was that HBOT could help children with autism due to an increase in cerebral perfusion and its anti-inflammatory properties. In layman’s terms, the thought was that HBOT would help improve the oxygen flow to the brain, thereby helping to improve some of the behavioral problems that children with autism struggle with. 

Is hyperbaric oxygen therapy effective for children with autism?

To answer this question let us examine both sides of the debate.

The anti-HBOT side 

According to the FDA there is no proof that HBOT is a proper treatment for children with autism.  

In fact there have been multiple studies that have shown that HBOT is ineffective as a treatment option for autism. You can read more about these studies here:

Study 1: Hyperbaric oxygen in the treatment of childhood autism

Study 2: Hyperbaric oxygen therapy for treatment of children with autism

Study 3: Randomized trial of hyperbaric oxygen therapy for children with autism

People who are anti HBOT as a treatment for autism will say that at best there is insufficient evidence to support the use of HBOT. This is concluded by the studies which show that more research is needed to reveal groups of children who can benefit from this treatment.

The pro-HBOT side

The pro HBOT side has their own studies as well showing the positive effects that HBOT has on children with autism. 

For example, in one such study the biomarkers for inflammation in the brain were measured before and after the therapy HBOT. The results showed that HBOT reduced cerebral inflammation and improved the child’s behavior.

Another study from BMC Pediatrics showed that HBOT helped children with autism improve their skill acquisition and reduced their problem behaviors. Additionally, during HBOT there was a reported increase in spontaneous communication from the children.

Ok. So we have two sides of the HBOT and autism debate with each side having its own studies that prove their point. This shows us that there is not enough conclusive data regarding this form of treatment yet and more testing will be necessary before it is approved or disapproved as a treatment option for autism.  

If you think that there is enough positive evidence for HBOT and you are going to be trying it for your child, here are some things to keep in mind. 

FAQs about HBOT

Will insurance cover HBOT for autism?

According to hyperbaricsorlando.com “a number of commercial insurance companies—including BlueCross BlueShield (BCBS), United Healthcare, Cigna, Humana, and more—will approve HBOT for off-label conditions if they deem treatment as medically necessary.”

Therefore, you will have to reach out to your insurance provider to see if they will cover the treatments. Otherwise you will have to pay out of pocket with each session costing hundreds of dollars. 

How long does a HBOT session last?

You should expect each session to last anywhere from half an hour to 2 hours. 

How many HBOT sessions are needed for autism?

The number of HBOT sessions needed for autism varies by individual. Generally, a course of treatments may range from 10-40 sessions.

How should my child prepare for their HBOT treatment?

The HBOT technician will only allow your child to wear cotton clothing while they are in the chamber. So you will have to remove any jewelry or makeup that your child may be wearing. You will also have to let the technician know of any medications that your child is on.

Are there any side effects from HBOT?

According to HBOT.com “ The most common side effect is barotrauma to the ears and sinuses caused by the change in pressure. To minimize this risk, patients learn techniques to promote adequate clearing of the ears during compression or tubes may be inserted in the ears.  Occasionally some patients may experience changes in their vision during their treatment period. These changes are usually minor and temporary.  A rare side effect is oxygen toxicity which is caused by administering too much oxygen.”

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