By Rona Tagalog, ARNP

Rona Tagalog, ARNP, is a board-certified family nurse practitioner at Naples Center for Functional Medicine.

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy — a proven method to combat decompression sickness in scuba divers — is one of the most sought-after treatments at Naples Center for Functional Medicine

Divers have long relied on hyperbaric oxygen therapy, or HBOT, to treat the condition that is also known as “the bends.” Breathing pure, 100% oxygen in a high-pressure chamber can increase oxygen in tissues and plasma, enhancing energy and eliminating accumulated toxins.

Unlike room air, which contains 21% oxygen, pure oxygen helps tissues in the human body heal and withstand infections. HBOT can enhance the growth of new blood vessels, destroy harmful bacteria, increase the growth of cells that form reparative tissue and enhance metabolic activity, among other benefits.

Conditions that hyperbaric oxygen therapy can benefit 

HBOT treatments can benefit several conditions, including:

  • Embolisms (air or gas bubbles in the blood vessels)
  • Carbon monoxide poisoning
  • Gangrene
  • Hearing and vision loss
  • Skin grafts and other wound healing
  • Lyme disease

HBOT has also shown promise as a treatment for stroke, autism, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, fibromyalgia and more. As a wellness tool, it can also benefit athletes seeking faster recovery from injuries, fatigue and soreness.

The promise of hyperbaric oxygen therapy

As noted, hyperbaric oxygen therapy has demonstrated promise in effectively treating a wide array of conditions, from migraines, fibromyalgia and autism to traumatic brain injury, Alzheimer’s and other forms of cognitive decline and early dementia.

Neurocognitive testing allows medical professionals to gauge the progress of patients receiving these treatments, which are also effective in enhancing cell regeneration while exhibiting anti-aging effects.

Here’s a brief look at some of the additional conditions that HBOT could benefit:

Cerebral palsy

The effectiveness of HBOT in treating cerebral palsy likely stems from enhanced function of previously damaged neurons. Extensive research at McGill University has found significant improvement in speech, cognitive function and spasticity in children with cerebral palsy who underwent this treatment.

The hard-shelled chambers used at Naples Center for Functional Medicine are large enough to allow an adult to accompany a child during treatment.

Stroke

The benefit of this therapy for stroke patients likely results from its ability to enhance the metabolism of idling nerve cells by increasing oxygen levels surrounding the damaged area of the brain. Recent research shows that while the more central areas of stroke-impacted brain tissue may be irreversibly damaged, an area surrounding that tissue may be functionally salvaged with HBOT.

In Germany, the procedure is pervasive. Virtually all stroke patients there now receive a three-week intensive course of HBOT that is paid for by insurance companies.

Autism 

By improving brain blood flow while reducing inflammation, hyperbaric oxygen has seen a surge of popularity in recent years among those with autism and is the focus of increased research on its efficacy

Studies have shown dramatic improvements in brain blood flow in individuals with autism, specifically to areas of the brain that deal with language comprehension, auditory processing, sensory perception and social interaction. The treatment reduces markers of inflammation, which plays a pivotal role in underlying the functional compromise of the autistic brain.

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy: What to expect

A typical HBOT session lasts one hour to 90 minutes, with patients entering an airtight one-person, clear acrylic chamber. Patients lie on their backs and can watch a movie or television, listen to music, sleep or relax while monitored by a certified technician with whom patients can communicate through an intercom.

Slight ear pressure will likely be felt during the beginning and end of treatment (ascent and descent), not unlike that felt when flying in an airplane. Patients are guided by trained technicians on how to equalize the pressure.

Naples Center for Functional Medicine is home to three of the preferred chambers. These chambers are covered in a hard shell, constructed with durable materials such as glass and steel and are capable of administering 100% oxygen and achieving pressures between 1.3 and 3.0 atmospheres absolute (ATA).

Another approach, although less effective, entails the use of soft-shell chambers that use compressed air that can achieve pressures only up to 1.3 ATA, delivering approximately 24% oxygen.

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HBOT Frequently Asked Questions

Benefits of Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy

Is HBOT right for you?

Wondering whether HBOT is right for you? The first step is to consult with your physician prior to making any substantial lifestyle, health or nutritional changes. At the Naples Center for Functional Medicine, we take a holistic approach to patient care – treating the whole patient rather than focusing primarily on surface-level symptoms. Our practitioners will first obtain a detailed history of a patient’s health to determine if HBOT is appropriate.

For questions, please contact our office at 239-649-7400 or complete the form below.