All over the country, health care providers are offering hyperbaric oxygen (HBOT) treatments for a variety of medical disorders. HBOT has only a few medical indications including air embolism, decompression sickness, carbon monoxide poisoning and a few bacterial infections. Now this therapy is being offered to children with autism.
Autism is a complex mental disorder and no one really knows what causes it or how to best treat it. So far, the disorder has been treated with a hodgepodge of therapies, including a variety of cognitive behavior therapies. The results of such therapies are often mediocre at best and the poor parents are left searching for alternative treatments.
Now hyperbaric oxygen has been introduced as a treatment for autism. The autistic child is placed in a pressurized chamber where pure oxygen is delivered. The doctors who offer HBOT suggested that the increase in oxygen may help reduce brain swelling and improves oxygenation of the nervous tissues. Therefore, if the brain gets more oxygen then hopefully it will work better.
So does HBOT work for autism? A few anecdotal reports indicate that some children may show more concentration, have better eye contact and appear less distracted by noise in the surrounding. They may also become more sociable. Nevertheless, all these benefits are very short lived.
However, critics of the treatment indicate that placing an autistic child in an enclosed chamber is no easy task. These children easily become claustrophobic, may need sedation, develop severe agitation, often develop burst eardrums and have elevated sinus pressures. Moreover, even seizures have been reported. Like some things in mainstream health care, many sessions of HBOT are required. This therapy is usually not covered by most health insurance carriers. At a cost of $150 or more per session, this can easily amount to a lot of money for a therapy that may not work.
There are no clinical studies that have evaluated the effects of HBOT treatment on autism. A few case reports indicate that the therapy does not work and is simply a fraud.