What is hyperbaric oxygen therapy?
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy involves breathing up to 100% oxygen in a pressurised chamber. The aim is to boost the amount of oxygen in the brain and reduce inflammation.
Who is hyperbaric oxygen therapy for?
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is used with people who have reduced oxygen flow to their brain. It has been used by autistic people.
What is hyperbaric oxygen therapy used for?
Supporters claim that hyperbaric oxygen therapy improves language, social skills, eye contact and level of awareness in autistic people.
Where does hyperbaric oxygen therapy come from?
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy was first developed in 1662 using compressed air rather than oxygen. By 1877, hyperbaric chambers were being used to treat many conditions, despite a lack of scientific evidence about the effectiveness of the treatment.
In the 1930s, hyperbaric chambers using pressurised oxygen were introduced and are now widely recognised as a treatment for burns, wounds that aren’t healing and decompression sickness (the bends).
What is the idea behind hyperbaric oxygen therapy?
Supporters of this therapy believe that autism is associated with inflammation and a lack of oxygen in the brain. So the idea is that using a hyperbaric chamber to quickly force large quantities of oxygen into the body will help reduce some of the characteristics of autism.
What does hyperbaric oxygen therapy involve?
This approach involves lying in a hyperbaric chamber, typically for 90 minutes per session. The number of sessions varies depending on the person’s ability to pay for them.
There are currently no standard therapeutic guidelines on the number of sessions needed for this treatment to work.
Typically, the therapy costs $100-$200 per session, although prices vary. Some people buy hyperbaric chambers for use at home. They cost $4000-$8000 for a small chamber and up to $17 000 for a large one.
You can contact the NDIS to find out whether you can include the cost of hyperbaric oxygen therapy in children’s NDIS plans.
Does hyperbaric oxygen therapy work?
A large-scale review found no evidence that hyperbaric oxygen therapy helps with any characteristics of autism.
Also, hyperbaric oxygen therapy might have some side effects, including ear discomfort (barotrauma), claustrophobia, fatigue and headaches.
Who practises hyperbaric oxygen therapy?
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is carried out at specialised clinics. You can also do it at home if you buy your own hyperbaric chamber.
Parent education, training, support and involvement
If your child is having hyperbaric oxygen therapy, your main involvement is taking your child to the treatment clinic.
Where can you find a practitioner?
If you’re interested in hyperbaric oxygen therapy, you should speak with your GP or one of the other professionals working with your child. You could also talk with your NDIA planner, NDIS early childhood early intervention (ECEI) coordinator or NDIS local area coordinator (LAC), if you have one.
There are many therapies for autism. They range from those based on behaviour and development to those based on medicine or alternative therapy. Our article on types of interventions for autistic children takes you through the main therapies, so you can better understand your child’s options.