Exploring Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy as a Treatment for Brain Injury

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) is hugely popular today. You’ll hear HBOT mentioned on podcasts by athletes and influencers. 

But is HBOT a reliable treatment for serious conditions?  

It is. In fact, HBOT is FDA-approved to treat 13 medical disorders including wound healing and burns. Yet, beyond the FDA-approved list, there are many other conditions that respond well to oxygen therapy. One of those conditions is traumatic brain injury (TBI).  

In clinical and animal trials, HBOT has improved symptoms of chronic TBI. And in some cases, HBOT has been effective years after the injury. Beyond TBI, oxygen therapy also shows promise for treating symptoms of stroke and concussion. 

Ultimately, HBOT hasn’t been FDA approved to treat traumatic brain injury. But it is commonly used for symptom management and rehabilitation. This guide explores the link between HBOT and TBI with a look at mechanisms and the science. 

What Is Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy? 

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy exposes patients to 100% pure oxygen at high pressure in a hyperbaric chamber. Under pressure, the body’s tissue absorbs more oxygen, which triggers a healing response. 

Here’s a closer look at this process:  

HBOT temporarily hyper-oxygenates body tissues. In some cases, it can increase dissolved oxygen levels by a factor of 15 or more. This extra oxygen in the body provides a range of benefits, including: 

  • Anti-inflammation 
  • Reduced swelling 
  • Stimulating immune responses 
  • Mobilization of stem cells 
  • Axonal regrowth 

How Does This Benefit TBI Symptoms?  

Here’s a broad overview of what happens to the brain following an injury: 

Traumatic brain injuries cause bruising on the brain. This bruising may also be accompanied by bleeding or tissue death. After the initial injury, the area becomes inflamed and swells. The same thing happens if you bruise your knee.  

Swelling within the skull increases pressure and restricts blood flow in the brain. As a result, tissue damage spreads. In addition, a brain injury may also affect neurons in the penumbra, reducing their ability to send neural impulses.  

In effect, this neurological damage causes common TBI symptoms like:  

  • Brain fog 
  • Difficulty remembering 
  • Issues with focus 
  • Fatigue 
  • Photophobia 

Oxygen therapy may reduce these symptoms by stimulating regrowth and the brain’s healing response. 

Mechanisms Behind HBOT’s Potential 

Let’s take a closer look at the healing response that HBOT triggers: 

Increased Oxygen Supply 

Oxygen is fundamental to cellular metabolism. And it plays a crucial role in energy production and cellular repair processes. 

With TBI, the heightened oxygen levels generated by HBOT may stimulate cellular recovery. This, in turn, triggers a natural healing response. 

Reducing Inflammation 

Brain injuries can lead to a series of responses in the body that cause inflammation. This inflammation has the potential to worsen the damage to the brain. 

HBOT has shown promise in modulating inflammation. In particular, the treatment affects immune cell behavior and cytokine response. Ultimately, these responses could potentially mitigate brain tissue inflammation. 

Stimulating Angiogenesis 

Angiogenesis is the formation of new blood vessels. And it is critical for delivering nutrients and oxygen to damaged tissues. Trials have shown HBOT may stimulate angiogenesis. This is especially true in injuries that cause restricted blood flow. 

By stimulating angiogenesis, HBOT may help to increase blood supply to the injured brain regions. This, in turn, stimulates healing, tissue regeneration and recovery. 

Neuroplasticity Enhancement 

Neuroplasticity refers to the brain’s ability to reorganize and adapt following injury. HBOT may induce neuroplasticity by stimulating neural regrowth and rewiring. This could aid in the recovery of lost functions and the adaptation to new neural pathways. 

Scientific Evidence and Clinical Studies 

Although HBOT’s theoretical mechanisms are compelling, it’s important to review the science. Animal and clinical trials have shown promise for HBOT therapy. 

Animal studies have demonstrated positive outcomes. For instance, improved cognitive function and reduced brain damage have both been observed. 

A systematic review of research showed a range of results in clinical trials: 

  • Reductions in lesion size 
  • Improved cognitive function 
  • Improvements in quality of life 

In some cases, the results have been less conclusive. However, there’s a growing body of research that shows HBOT’s potential impact. 

A Complementary Option  

HBOT is not a standalone solution. It remains a palliative option that offers promise as part of a comprehensive treatment approach. 

 Generally, HBOT fits in conjuction with traditional TBI treatments including:  

  • Physical therapy 
  • Occupational therapy 
  • Psychiatric care 
  • Psychological care 

Additionally, the proper dosage is essential. Low pressure and a limited number of sessions offers the most effective for mild-to-moderate cases.  

Hue Light USA is a distributor of hyperbaric oxygen chambers. Contact us today to learn more about our medical devices. 

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