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Hyperbaric Oxygen Treatments and Autism: The Risks and Benefits

Hyperbaric Oxygen Treatments and Autism

Hyperbaric Oxygen Treatment is one of those treatments that is used for more conditions than just Autism. It’s also one of those treatments that any parent would question when they first heard about; likely, leading to a need to research it and the claims. Many parents swear by it, many scientists are for it and many against it. The whole concept is, none-the-less, interesting.


Hyperbaric Oxygen Treatments

Whenever a “normal” person must focus on a completing a task there’s an upsurge in blood flow to the brain. The increase in the blood flow that’s seen supplies their brain with more oxygen and glucose which then gives their cells the energy that’s needed to accomplish their task.

In children with Autism, however, several studies have shown the contrary. Shockingly in a lot of cases they present with diminished blood flow. When Autistic children’s brains are attempting to accomplish a task their blood flow doesn’t increase which deprives them of the oxygen and glucose needed for their cells. This lack of blood flow and glucose is a result of cerebral hypoxia resulting from hypoperfusion.

According to a study releases in ScienceDigest by a Mr. Daniel A. Rossignol, "Numerous studies of Autistic individuals have revealed evidence of cerebral hypoperfusion, neuroinflammation and gastrointestinal inflammation, immune dysregulation, oxidative stress, relative mitochondrial dysfunction, neurotransmitter abnormalities, impaired detoxification of toxins, dysbiosis, and impaired production of porphyrins. Many of these findings have been correlated with core Autistic symptoms. For example, cerebral hypoperfusion in Autistic children has been correlated with repetitive, self-stimulatory and stereotypical behaviors, and impairments in communication, sensory perception, and social interaction.” This is where Hyperbaric Oxygen Treatment (HBOT) comes in. While HBOT has only been used to treat Autism for around 4 years, it isn’t used just for Autism.

Over the years doctors have started using HBOT for things such as:

-Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
-Cerebral Palsy
-Fetal Alcohol Syndrome
-Closed Head Injury
-Severe Burns
-Severe Anemia
-Injury from Crushing
-Brain Abscesses
-Skin Grafts and Flaps
-Delayed Radiation Injury
-Flesh-Eating Disease
-Skin Infections that are causing Tissue to Die
-Thermal Burns
-Central Retinal Artery Occlusion

During the treatment the individual with Autism lies down on a table in an “enclosed chamber” and breathes in 100% oxygen, subsequently the pressure in the “chamber” is slowly changed. The typical protocol for Autism is to breathe the pure oxygen for about one hour. Pressure inside of the chamber is set at 1.3 to 1.5 ATA. These numbers compare to a depth of ten to seventeen feet of seawater.

When done in a hospital setting, properly, HBOT is considered safe; nonetheless, many critics still advocate against using it for treatment of Autism. Fires associated with HBOT have been known to have caused 80 deaths worldwide over the years, including a grandmother and her grandson who died whenever the chamber exploded in Florida in 2009.

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The Parental Claims

The claims that parents make concerning their children being in HBOT are rather amazing, to say the least. Of course, more studies need to be done to correlate the claims of these parents. It must be said that the studies currently available are quite remarkable though. There are claims of almost completely cured children to children that had unbelievable results within 20 hours of receiving their first treatments. Though I personally doubt the validity of these claims to their fullest, I certainly understand the appeal in them being accurate and certainly how they would induce hope.

Some of the Claims for using HBOT:
-Improved Sleep
-Calmer and More Affectionate Children
-Improved Focus and Attention
-Improved Bowel Function
-Being More “Present”
-Less Sensory Disturbance
-Improved Cognition
-Increased Speech
-Improvements in Language
-Improvements in Eye Contact
-Improvements in Socialization
-Increased Appetite
-Improved Digestion

HOBT Side Effects and Precautions

As with almost any other therapy there are side effects associated with Hyperbaric Oxygen Treatments. Per John Hopkins University, these treatments mostly include things such as fatigue, ear pain, and/or lightheadedness after treatments. There are other, less common, side effects associated with HBOT.

Less Common Side Effects:
-Damage to the Lungs
-Rupturing of the Middle Ear
-Damage to the Sinuses
-Changes in Vision causing Myopia
-Lung Failure
-Fluid in the Lungs

It’s important to also note that it’s recommended that you avoid having HBOT if you have a pacemaker, are pregnant, have certain lung diseases, take chemotherapy, or have a collapsed lung, have heart failure, a cold or fever, are claustrophobic, and if you take the drugs Disulfiram or Sulfamylon.


As a parent of a child with Autism standing on the outside of this treatment looking in, it seems quite risky. Quite risky- but also quite interesting. I don’t believe that-at this time-the proven positive results outweigh the possible negative consequences associated with this treatment. This is simply my opinion though. Over the next several years I do believe that researchers may be able to make more sound correlations between what can be proven by medical science and the claims of the parents who use this treatment on their own Autistic children.