Is HBOT Therapy Really Helpful For Patients With TBI?


Oxygen is the elixir of life. There’s no second thought about it. But what about the oxygen one breathes inside a pressurized chamber, like Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT)? Does it help patients suffering from a condition like TBI? Let’s find out.

Understanding The Degree of Traumatic Brain Injury

Before we jump into tracing the efficacy of HBOT therapy for Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), it’s necessary to understand how TBI affects an individual.

At the outset, the majority of TBI cases are concussions, which are considered mild occurrences in the absence of a skull fracture or internal bleeding. However, such cases are not to be taken lightly, as they are still considerable damage.

Primarily, any kind of blow to the head or a sudden jolt leads the brain to crash right into the skull. As an obvious consequence, the cells experience inflammation around the injury site. While some people may recover from a mild TBI in a few days or weeks, many can take almost a year or more to recover fully.

In cases when TBI symptoms last over three months, people usually experience post-concussion syndrome. This is not only common in mild TBI but in moderate to severe cases as well.

Some patients can also develop TBI symptoms from viral or bacterial infections, chemical reactions arising from chemotherapy or following a stroke, and carbon monoxide poisoning.

On the outside, a TBI might show a visible injury like a hairline fracture that might be hard to diagnose as a life-threatening condition. Generally, mild and moderate TBI patients are kept under observation for 24-72 hours to determine the need for surgery.

In contrast, a severe case of TBI can leave a patient unconscious. There’s a good chance of slipping into a coma with a severe skull fracture. Such a life-threatening condition following a TBI will require immediate intervention of a neurosurgeon to address the tissue damage and internal swelling. In specific odd scenarios, such emergency surgeries have also reportedly added to the damage, which makes recovery even more challenging.

As a possible aftermath, some patients, despite recovering from TBI, have to live with some form of permanent disability.

How Helpful is HBOT Therapy For TBI?

The past decade has witnessed a sea of changes in the medical world. HBOT therapy, which was once introduced to treat decompression sickness, is now being used to treat conditions like multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s, PTSD, TBI, and post-concussion syndrome. The only guiding factor here is pure, unadulterated oxygen released inside a hyperbaric chamber and picked up via the bloodstream.

We already know and understand how brain cells depend on oxygen to thrive. TBI, which is largely associated with high-impact blows to the head, often leads to cell dysfunction and permanent damage.

Research studies have established the efficacy of HBOT in carrying oxygen inflow across deprived tissues within the brain. This, in turn, promotes healing. By all means, it’s a science-backed hypothesis that says an injured brain can do much better with hyperoxygenation.

Sadly, the process isn’t that simple. Why? Because no two brain injuries are identical. Whether it’s simple or complex TBI, not all brain injuries give rise to deoxygenated tissues.

To make matters worse, our brains operate via Neurovascular Coupling, a communication method that signals for a certain amount of oxygen to flow across critical regions. Simply put, the brain doesn’t need oxygen in equal amounts for all parts simultaneously. Thus, it makes an excellent case-in-point for HBOT therapy.

HBOT Therapy: From Normalizing Blood SPO2 to Repairing Tissue Damage

A 2016 study focused on clinical and experimental treatment of TBI showed positive outcomes using HBOT therapy. Reportedly, the outcomes were recorded within a few hours of the first hyperbaric session. Sure, the outcomes were largely subjective based on neuropsychological tests like the Rivermead Post-Concussion Symptoms Questionnaire. But the favorable outcomes can’t be summarily rejected.
In another study comprising children affected by TBI, better outcomes were noticed in subjects who received HBOT compared to those who didn’t. The children were subjected to three hyperbaric sessions in a week after they were medically stabilized from 10-12 days of injury. It was quite a breakthrough as HBOT significantly reduced the life risk compared to the control group.

So, how did HBOT therapy work for TBI? It’s the hyperoxygenation that addresses swelling and intensive damage of blood vessels and tissues. Although this is nothing new. Researchers have been experimenting with HBOT therapy and its ability to boost cell vitality and suppress inflammation since 1960.

However, they were mainly animal studies due to several ethical issues with human subjects. Not to forget, the clinical trials for such alternate treatments involve a good amount of money.

Concluding Note

HBOT therapy has shown promising potential in aiding the recovery of patients with TBI. Research suggests that hyperbaric oxygen therapy can promote healing by delivering oxygen to deprived brain tissues, reducing inflammation, and addressing tissue damage.

Though further studies are needed to validate its effectiveness across different TBI cases, HBOT therapy stands as a non-invasive approach with encouraging outcomes in improving the body’s natural healing processes.

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