Sunday, March 15, 2009

Hyperbaric Chamber/ Oxygen Treatment for Autism

The next big thing, or a crock of bullshit? I have no idea. It doesn't appear that there have been enough studies done yet to know whether there is anymore merit to this idea than there is to the whackaloons who advocate chelation therapy.


One theory is that autism is caused by a lack of oxygen to the brain. Another is that autism is caused by swelling and inflammation of the brain, which kind of comes back to that first theory, in that the inflammation is obstructing the flow of oxygen.

Based on these theories, the idea of hyperbaric treatments makes perfect sense. Increased pressure in the chamber causes blood vessels in the brain to constrict, which eases the swelling and allows more oxygen into the brain itself. Supposedly the combination of higher pressure and more oxygen can activate previously dormant areas of the brain and even make the brain regenerate tissue more quickly.

The only study I've found online does make it sound like a good thing to explore at the very least, assuming you have the resources to do it. The study took sixty two kids with autism (ages 2-7) and put them into the hyperbaric chamber about an hour and a half per day, equaling out to a total of forty hours spread out over one month. Half of the kids got a 24% oxygen at an atmosphere of 1.3 atm (whatever that means) and the other half got plain old air in a barely pressurized room.

80% of the treatment group (the ones who got the 24% oxygen) showed significant improvement in eye contact, behavior, cognitive and sensory awareness, and receptive language. 38% of the control group showed improvement.

30% of the treatment group were pronounced "much improved" by their doctors, vs only 8% in the control group.

Now, my questions... First off, the numbers DO say something. Obviously there was some difference, in enough of the kids that it was probably not just coincidence. But the study didn't specify whether all the kids were receiving therapies, and what types and at what frequency. It also didn't say whether all the kids were receiving the SAME intervention. were they all attending Speech and OT? Where they all in school? Were they all untreated? Were any on medications?

There is also the issue of diversity. Autistic kids are like snowflakes, no two are the same. An autism study is going to be different than say, a study of heart defects or something like that. What works for one kid with autism might be a disaster for another, so that time spent in the chamber could have affected them all differently. Or not at all. Or, the researchers and parents could have seen progress where there is none out of wishful thinking. I know that when Jaymes starts a new medication, I tend to imagine he's doing better and only later realize I was seeing what I wanted to see rather than what was.

I guess my point is that I'm a very skeptical person, and I do not know a lot about how these studies are done, but it seems like it would be nearly impossible to get an unbiased, accurate assessment of improvement. Like I said, I'm uneducated as far as clinical studies go, so this is just my opinion.

If it really does work though, it's really a cool thought. A way to help heal the brain and improve behavior, communication, awareness that doesn't involved pumping chemicals, medications, eye of newt into our kids? What's purer than oxygen?

But then my skeptical side returns when I try to visualize Jaymes being treated in a hyperbaric chamber. I've never been in one myself, but I've seen a lot of them on TV in various medical type shows like ER and House, and if what I'm seeing on those shows is realistic, there's no way in hell Jaymes could handle such a treatment. The chambers are small and cramped, there are bright lights and scary noises. you have to stay put for long periods of time. The increased pressure can cause ear pain and I'm not sure what effect it would have on kids like Jaymes who have ear tubes.

Jaymes doesn't do small spaces. He has very very sensitive ears, and the one time we took him on a plane, he was quite miserable. I can't imagine how stressed and unhappy an hour and a half of that would make him. And to have to do it day after day, the setting up and heading out to wherever treatment would take place, the treatment time itself, and the calming down time afterward. It would have to be some very very impressive improvement to make it worthwhile to me.

I'll be really curious to read about new studies and information on this type of treatment, I guess only time will tell if it's worth trying or not. I doubt that right now any insurances would cover it, but if you've got a spare $15-20K lying around, you can pick up your very own home chamber. Boy, that seems like a lawsuit waiting to happen, doesn't it?

6 comments:

FieldingHurst said...

We do this with my daughter and it does seem to have a very positive impact. You would not think it, but she loves being in the chamber. We usually work, use the computer, or watch movies. If nothing else, we will have great skin and it gives the other parent a break while one is in the chamber with her.

I do feel like a million bucks after being in it, so maybe that alone is what we are seeing.

FJH
The Autism Retort

Amber DBTD said...

Is your daughter's treatment covered by insurance, or do you have to pay out of pocket? How long do they generally keep her in the chamber, and how often are the treatments? What changes have you seen in your daughter?

It's really interesting to actually hear from someone who has done this with their child, puts a spin on it that's easier for me as a parent to relate to than just the scientific stuff.

luvmycrazyboy said...

My cousin is a hyperbaric chamber technician. I could ask some questions for you.

" JUST US " said...

Insurane Companies Will NOT pay for that treatment here. Or Cover the DAN Doctors either. I'm still new to this ASD world too. So I'm like you I'm not going to make any rash moves until I have stone Cold evidence that it works.

Unknown said...

I know this is old, but kids with tubes in their ears are not usually able to participate in HBOT. I have thought about doing the treatment for my son who has autism and also had intussesception at four months of age which cut off oxygen to his brain for about ten minutes and left him with severe cognitive difficulties. If he just had autism I might not be so interrested in this. Now they have big rooms that hold many people and this might be the solution for kids like mine that will not willingly get into the tube. My son saw one at a friends house and there was no way he was getting into that small space. I would like to see more well designed studdies on this as far as autism goes also.

Unknown said...

I know this is old, but kids with tubes in their ears are not usually able to participate in HBOT. I have thought about doing the treatment for my son who has autism and also had intussesception at four months of age which cut off oxygen to his brain for about ten minutes and left him with severe cognitive difficulties. If he just had autism I might not be so interrested in this. Now they have big rooms that hold many people and this might be the solution for kids like mine that will not willingly get into the tube. My son saw one at a friends house and there was no way he was getting into that small space. I would like to see more well designed studdies on this as far as autism goes also.