More About Oxygen Treatment for Autism.

Hyperbaric oxygen treatment, while unproven, is not sounding all so crazy to me the more I look into it. Not too long ago, I posted about my somewhat desperate attempts to find treatments for my son here. Some of you might have thought I was not serious about getting my son this oxygen treatment. I am.

Since I wrote that post, I’ve been exploring what options are available for this therapy. As with anything, there are what seem to be more and less reputable purveyors of the treatment. I saw ads showing oxygen treatments available in chiropractors offices, for home purchase and in medical doctor supervised facilities. I chose to consult with a medical doctor’s office that happens to be in a city near where I live.

Last Wednesday, my son, our senior tutor and I made the trek to the HBOT (hyperbaric oxygen treatment) office. It turned out to be in the basement of an old hospital building that has been converted into an extra campus for a local community college. The location was the third for this doctor (the two others are in different cities further away) and his office was not ready for patients. However, he did not cancel our appointment.

It was kind of weird walking into an office that was not set up to accept patients.  I learned that the contractors who were finishing the office had not been able to come so the facility was not yet ready.

The doctor was there with his male assistant who took us straight over to the “chamber” in which my son would be placed for treatment. We spent some time talking to both the assistant and the physician. The little guy was fascinated and nervous about the “tube” as they called it.

The Assistant Explains how to use the "tube"...

He wanted to play with the door.

Opening and Closing the Door

He wanted to crawl inside.

Wanting in...

He wanted to climb out.

Wanting out...

Our tutor, who is a wonderful, calm and sweet woman was working desensitization on my son as I spent some time speaking with the doctor and his assistant. What I did learn was that the assistant actually worked on the study of the effects of HBOT on autistic children, to which I referred before. He said he actually saw the improvement in the children that were part of the study as they were working with them.

Here are some of the things I was told:

My son will have to be examined to check his physical condition to undergo the treatment including a check of his ears, lungs and heart.  The doctor creates the prescription of just how much oxygen and the duration of the treatment per visit which is, on average, an hour at a time.

He cannot bring any toys with metal parts on them (and obviously no electronic devices) into the chamber because of the worry that the metal, together with the pure oxygen could cause a spark. So, those pictures I saw online of the moms and sons in the chamber with the DVD player? Not true HBOT chambers.

They do not want him to eat inside because it would just be too messy.

He can have water inside and they encourage this to help with popping the ears.

He will probably be recommended to go one hour per day 3-5 days a week for 40 treatments.

My son’s ears will plug and pop due to the increased pressure – like on an airplane. The assistant says that if the plugged ears bother my son, they can reverse the pressure and pop them.

Oxygen treatments will increase your metabolism!  (When the tutor and I heard this we both wanted to go in!)

The therapeutic principle behind the HBOT is in an increased infusion of oxygen into the body’s tissues, primarily due to the increased pressure, which can be up to 3 atmospheres (~30 psig) in a Sechrist hyperbaric chamber.  The oxygen transported in blood plasma is dramatically increased under hyperbaric conditions. That results in sharply higher oxygen delivery to the tissues, which apparently accelerates healing.

I asked if there was some sort of maintenance program. He said that about 40 treatments is it. That is because the amount of healing that can take place will take place by 40 treatments. There is no need to come back afterward.  The treatment will probably reach its maximum potential at 40 treatments.

The “chambers” that look like tents and are sold for home use? They are not sealed in units that provide pressure and pure oxygen.  The “chamber” pictured above is sophisticated piece of medical equipment used to treat patients with decompression sickness, carbon monoxide poisoning and for diabetic neuropathy.  The ones that are tents use compressed air rather than pure oxygen.

From what I understand, once the kids get used to it, they do not want the parents going in with them. They are fine on their own. Also, the autistic children that he has seen use it, actually express that they are feeling better and look forward to going inside the “tube.”

Of course, this is all information from the people trying to get us to participate in trying it out.  But the doctor who runs it is a licensed medical doctor.  We will be going back and giving it a try…  Part three will be coming soon.

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About solodialogue

I'm a lawyer and the mom of a 6 year old boy with autism. I work part time and spend the rest driving here and there and everywhere for my son's various therapies. Instead of trying cases, I now play Pac-man and watch SpongeBob. I wear old sweaters and jeans and always, always flat shoes to run after my son. Yeah, it's different but I wouldn't change it for anything. The love of my child is the most powerful, beautiful and rewarding aspect of my life.
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12 Responses to More About Oxygen Treatment for Autism.

  1. Teresa says:

    Leave no stone unturned… I remember running into our family doctor after Matthew was diagnosed and telling him about one of the programs we were trying. He agreed, if it was his child he would do as much as possible.

    The theory behind a hyperbaric chamber is medically sound. And from everything I have read it cannot hurt. My dad went through treatments in the chamber. His case, was the more common one, to help heal a wound. The chamber he was in also was much larger than what you are looking at. I think they could have three patients in at a time. Quite often dad was scheduled with a mom and her young autistic son. Because it was big they also had a tv screen with sound and played movies (same rules about no electronics).

    My dad is very claustrophobic…not sure he would have been willing to go in the smaller tube but he did alright with the bigger chamber. (Maybe the fact we kept reminding him he was a Marine helped.) I think there were one or two days he was stuffed up and had to reschedule.

    While in the chamber dad heard a lot of anecdotal experiences of healing, not needing to wear glasses during treatment (need reverted back after treatment), and other positive responses to the treatment. His personal situation was that he was being treated as a follow up to radiation therapy to his jaw and after having a tooth pulled was in danger of bone death. It’s been three or four years and while the hole still hasn’t healed completely, he did not get any necrosis. So, did it work, at least partially.

    The idea of increasing oxygen to the brain as a healing method is not new. And, interestingly we cannot just add oxygen to the room to be breathed in. The body senses the right level and adjusts our breathing accordingly. Methods to trick the brain must be used. Still the hyperbaric treatment is not without risk so one must due diligence and find medical professionals who can handle any problems.

    We talked about trying the chamber with Matthew (even as an adult). But shortly after I was diagnosed with cancer so it was left behind for the time. I will watch with great interest your experience. Best wishes for great success!

    • solodialogue says:

      Teresa, thank you so much for your experience with your father and your encouragement. Of course, I will study this in more detail based on the cautions of both you and Rachel and my own research. I want to make sure it is safe and that the risks are not significant. I know that most risks when you read them close up can be quite scary. I need the best perspectives – medical professionals who are neutral in making that determination for my son’s safety.

      Interesting that you dad was able to forego his glasses for the duration of the treatment. I think I read about that as well somewhere in my research. So sorry that you did not pursue this with Matthew. I don’t believe there is anything that says it is too late – so keep watching to see what happens. 🙂

  2. Rachel says:

    Karen,

    I am very suspicious of this therapy, given both its origins and its potential dangers. Please read the following science-based critiques before you set out on this path:

    http://www.ehow.com/about_5472488_hyperbaric-chamber-autism-dangers.html

    http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/?p=249

    The world of autism treatment is a very big business, and there are a lot of people who talk a good line to loving parents, like yourself, who want to do everything possible for their kids. Be careful that this doctor isn’t one of them.

    A small study showing improvement in some autistic children is not hard science, in my opinion. And besides, HBOT is for the healing of wounds and traumatic injuries. I’m very concerned about these kinds of things being used for other purposes, on small children, and especially on small autistic children, with very sensitive neurologies. No one knows how the autistic brain works, and so no one can possibly know that HBOT will only do good, and no harm.

    This whole thing worries me.

    • solodialogue says:

      Rachel, thank you for your cautions and your referral to the places that describe potential dangers associated with HBOT. Now that I have had time to sit down and read them, I have researched a bit further with respect to, especially, the second of your citations. I do not know the author of the second publication. However, because of the very strong opinion expressed concerning Dr. Rossignol, who was the main source of citation in the Scientific American story upon which I based a favorable opinion, I felt the best way to tackle the questions was to read Dr. Rossignol’s work for myself.

      I went to his site here – http://www.icdrc.org/ At his site, is a link to his study cited at the sciencebasedmedicine.org site to which you referred me. I read his study. I did not seem like quackery to me. It seemed like a very thorough well documented study. One of the interesting bits of information within the study is this:

      “Cerebral hypoperfusion, especially of the temporal lobes, is a very common finding in children with autism compared to typically-developing children, affecting up to 75%. This hypoperfusion is an indirect measure of diminished brain activity because cerebral blood flow is normally tightly coupled to brain metabolic rate and function. Several studies have reported that the anatomical location of cerebral hypoperfusion significantly correlates with certain autistic behaviors…” He goes on to state that “hypoperfusion of the thalamus as measured by Single Photon Emission Com- puted Tomography (SPECT) was observed in the autism group and significantly correlated (r = 0.42, p < 0.01) with repetitive behaviors and unusual sensory interest…"

      From what I understood from the study, hypoperfusion is associated with hypoxia which leads to inflammation and swelling of the tissues (edema). This inflammation prevents maximal uptake of oxygen by cells. The study then states the following:

      "This infiltration and increased adherence of inflammatory cells can contribute to brain injury by decreasing microvascular blood flow, causing thrombosis, and increasing the production of free radicals. Hyperbaric treatment can overcome the effects of cerebral hypoperfusion and hypoxia by: increasing the plasma oxygen tension which transfers more oxygen into tissue, including the brain, decreasing cerebral edema, inhibiting the expression of HIF-1α and its target genes, and by causing angiogenesis (development of new blood cells!) over time"

      This information was on the 12th page of the study which has citations throughout for its factual statements to other scholarly articles.

      The first citation you gave me did make me nervous – not for the fire dangers it sets forth but for the other potential side effects. I will discuss them all in detail with my son's pediatrician and the physician in charge of the treatment before commencing it.

      I am so grateful to you for helping me and being so kind as to guide me with my child. My feeling is, after reading the study I've quoted above, your citations, and re-reading the Scientific American article referencing UC Davis Mind Institute that I will ask both my pediatrician and try to get a response from a physician familiar with these studies at UC Davis Mind Institute. (I'm a pushy broad- I'll get someone to talk to me).

      I have only the highest respect for your intelligence and your caution. I love my son. These are ingredients that will play in my decision for what is best for my child. The journey continues with our next stop being his pediatrician's office.

      • Rachel says:

        Karen, thanks for engaging in this conversation. A few things:

        There is absolutely no scientific evidence that suggests that hypoperfusion causes autism and autistic behaviors. The evidence suggests a correlation only, and correlation is not causation. Until there is hard science that shows any kind of causative link, it makes no sense to make a jump from one to the other.

        There could be a number of reasons for Rossignol’s findings; hypoperfusion could be a secondary or tertiary effect of a larger issue that he does not address, and messing with brain function in this way, when the picture is so partial, could ultimately do more harm than good. I’m not sure the potential harm is worth the risk when the point isn’t to heal a specific physical condition, but to change behaviors that could be addressed in other ways.

        It’s also unclear whether Rossignol is basing his conclusions on previous science that is any good at all. As laypeople, we have no way of knowing the quality of the research of the people he references. I think it makes sense to do some more investigation into what he is about and see whether you think he is someone to be trusted. When people who care about science- and evidence-based treatments for autism call people quacks, I tend to listen up — no matter how good the potential quacks’ credentials may look on paper. From what I can see, most people who critique these treatments have no ideological bone to pick at all, except that they are very scientifically minded and tend to insist that others are. If we’re talking about a belief in God, it bothers the hell out of me, but when we’re talking about treatments for some of the most vulnerable and sensitive people on the planet, I appreciate someone who insists upon very clear, scientific proof. I know that you do, too, so keep following up on this until you feel settled in your mind.

        Keep in mind that, in the field of autism, the research can be quite poor, based on small subgroups, and leading to all kinds of erroneous conclusions. I’m concerned that what’s going on here might simply be more of the same.

      • Tam says:

        Karen, here is a link to some comments on the study in question:

        http://www.biomedcentral.com/1471-2431/9/21/comments

        I would particularly direct you to start with the comment made by Mark Mintz, who appears to have done a thorough review of the study, along with several other doctors, and pointed out numerous problems with it. His comment is then responded to by the study authors, and he comments again further. I’ll admit I haven’t taken the time to read the entire discussion, but it seems a very informed discussion and well worth your investigation.

  3. eof737 says:

    I would investigate this further and get multiple opinions from doctors on both sides of the conversation… I know you will. Please keep us updated on your efforts.
    Happy Mother’s Day! 🙂
    Elizabeth

    • solodialogue says:

      I will keep looking into it and seeing what the medical consensus is from those who know my son well. Thanks, Elizabeth! Happy Mother’s Day to you as well! 🙂

  4. Broot says:

    I was going to say the same as Rachel. I’m glad she took the time to find you those two links, and I’m glad you took her seriously and will ask the hard questions. 🙂 I wish you the best with the decision – you are doing a fantastic job of researching and asking all the questions before you start the therapy! (I wish more moms were that thorough!)

  5. jnette says:

    Wonderful !
    Years ago, I worked at a medical clinic up here in the mountains. The doc and owner of the clinic was one of the original founders of IV chelation therapy. He also had HBOT set up in the separate small building just outside the main clinic. We had a large number of patients doing HBOT, mostly adults.

    I for one, have never doubted the benefits of HBOT.. or chelation for that matter.

    I’ve seen the credible results of both. 🙂

  6. Deanne says:

    Hello Karen – hope you have had a lovely Mother’s Day! I’m not sure if I’m duplicating the information the posters have cited above but you may want to look here for further information on HBOT: http://leftbrainrightbrain.co.uk/category/science/extreme-biomed/hbot/
    It worries me when I read about side effects like ruptured eardrums, seizures, cataracts, oxygen toxicity…

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