As the diagnosis of Autistic Syndrome (ASD) grows, there are many therapies utilized in this field that had not been scientifically assesse d and may potentially have negative effects on the patient.
One of these is hyperbaric oxygen treatment.
Through my years of dealing with patients with the diagnosis of ASD and Cerebral Palsy, I have found families investing in this expensive treatment and occasionally buying the equipment so that they can perform the treatment at home with an increased frequency.
It is clear from the medical literature that hyperbaric oxygen therapy has a significant therapeutic effect in infections of limbs, in which anaerobic bacteria is found. Specifically, in gangrene.
It also has a significant role in the treatment of diving encephalopathies (ie, the famous “bends” -Ed), decompression syndromes, for which hyperbaric oxygen is of incredible value as a therapeutic tool.
However, to my knowledge, there is no peer-reviewed journal in the Neurosciences that has noted the value in any situation for ASD or CP.
The postulate in these cases, as it is also for stroke utilization of hyperbaric oxygen, is that supplying oxygen will revitalize areas of the brain that have been damaged by whatever the initial insult has been, and make them functional again.
In stroke, there is a well-recognized area of brain tissue involvement affected by the so-called “penumbra” in which nerve cells are not dead. Instead, they are damaged and they become nonfunctional.
Treatment with hyperbaric oxygen has been postulated, and in some cases (personal experience) with the hyperbaric chambers at the University of Maryland, we were able to see how an acute stroke would recover normal function in the side of the brain affected.
However, whenever the patient was withdrawn from the chamber, the deficit would recur. The reason for this, was the original cause of the insult was not solved.
In the case of a patient with ASD, in which the Neuropathology shows a minicolumnar neuropathological deficit, hyperbaric oxygen makes no scientific sense.
In patients with Cerebral Palsy, oxygen may reactivate temporarily areas that had been inactive. I have had the opportunity of seeing patients in which this caused a seizure disorder that was subclinical or not apparent before (ie, caused additional seizures -Ed). I have also seen patients who had a seizure disorder as a consequence of congenital damage to the central nervous system (CP) with a seizure disorder, which became intractable after hyperbaric oxygentreatment (ie, HO made brain damage permanent -Ed).
At best, the therapy does not produce any lasting changes in the brain.
It is also important to realize that many of these patients’ families are trying their best to help their children, and this represents an extraordinary expense for which there is no scientific basis for a potential therapeutic effect.
Fernando Miranda, M.D., F.A.A.N.
Editor’s notes: HO systems are known to pose a fire hazard risk. Photo from Corbis shown for representative purposes only.