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Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is an emerging treatment for children with cerebral palsy. It involves using a pressurized chamber to deliver more oxygen to a baby or child. More research is needed, but this therapy might significantly reduce cerebral palsy symptoms.
What Is Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy?
Hyperbaric Oxygen therapy (HBOT) is a medical treatment that supplies pure oxygen into the bloodstream while the patient lies in a pressurized chamber. While the patient is inside the chamber, the air pressure increases to three times higher than normal, making it possible for the lungs to gather more oxygen.
Since blood carries oxygen throughout the body, the additional oxygen helps fight off infection while helping the body stimulate and release stem cells and growth factors. Additionally, when the body receives extra oxygen, the increase in blood oxygen will temporarily restore the correct level of tissue function and blood gas levels.
How Does Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy Help Children With Cerebral Palsy?
The study of HBOT therapy in children with cerebral palsy currently has mixed results. Yet, many healthcare providers feel that it will be the future of cerebral palsy treatment.
Most providers agree that HBOT works best for children who developed cerebral palsy due to a brain injury caused by a lack of oxygen rather than a genetic or developmental cause.
Praises for HBOT
Theresa Washington, the parent of a child born with cerebral palsy, states that HOBT was a lifesaver for her family. Her son, Andrew, was born with cerebral palsy and once had weak uncontrolled limbs and poor control of his head. The U.K.’s Telegraph reports that Theresa opted to start HBOT treatment for her son, which consisted of daily treatments of HBOT for six months.
Before treatment, nurse Jane Dean of Alder Hey Hospital said that Andrew was in dire condition after having surgery to correct a problem with one of his testicles. Using HBOT, although still novel at the time, was their last hope.
“Andrew’s body was curved like a banana. He had no control over any of his muscles and was being fed through a tube. He was on 16 different kinds of medication. There was no cognition at all. He had that high-pitched ‘cerebral’ cry that, once you have heard, you hope never to hear again in your life. My heart went out to him. I thought, ‘Surely there must be more we can do.’”
After eight years of HBOT treatment, Andrew’s mother, Theresa, stated that Andrew is like a new person.
“His understanding came back very quickly. To begin with, he couldn’t see. But now he can read, his math is good, and he can tell the time. He is starting to be able to squeeze a switch, which could open up a new form of communication. We take him to football matches and horse-riding for the disabled. He remembers everything. He will never walk, but we have our child back.”
Not everyone agrees with the benefits of HBOT. Some physicians have indicated that HBOT may do more harm than good to children with cerebral palsy.
For instance, in studies published by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), results of HBOT clinical trials indicated that although it helped to slightly decrease mortality in children with traumatic brain injuries, it also increased the chances of a poor functional outcome.
Research on HBOT published in the Modern Drug Discovery as well as by NHI concluded that there was no significant difference between children with cerebral palsy who received HBOT when compared to a placebo group.
Researchers performed two clinical trials on children with cerebral palsy, ranging from ages 3 to 12. The first group of children was given hyperbaric oxygen at 1.75 ATA of 100% oxygen. The second group of children was given treatment consisting of slightly pressurized room air. The study included 40 sessions where the treatments were given once per day.
Results of the study show that both groups showed significant improvements in the following areas:
- Gross motor function
- Functional skills
Is HBOT Right For Your Child?
If you are interested in learning more about HBOT or you think it could be an option that may benefit your child, it is important to get an informed explanation from your child’s primary healthcare provider, as well as other healthcare team members who have experience and knowledge about the therapy. However, keep in mind that since it is not yet recognized as a current, valid treatment for cerebral palsy, most insurance companies will not pay for the therapy.
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- Hyperbaric oxygen therapy. (2018, January 12). Mayo Clinic - Mayo Clinic.
Retrieved from: https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/hyperbaric-oxygen-therapy/about/pac-20394380
- M McDonagh, S Carson, J Ash, BS Russman, PZ Stavri, KP Krages, M Helfand. (n.d.). Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy for Brain Injury, Cerebral Palsy, and Stroke: Summary - AHRQ Evidence Report Summaries - NCBI Bookshelf. National Center for Biotechnology Information.
Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK11904/
- Grice, E. (2006, April 10). Oxygen therapy gave us back our child. Telegraph.co.uk.
Retrieved from: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/health/alternative-medicine/3338168/Oxygen-therapy-gave-us-back-our-child.html
- Marois, P., & Vanasse, M. (646). Hyperbaric oxygen therapy and cerebral palsy. Cambridge Core.
Retrieved from: https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/developmental-medicine-and-child-neurology/article/hyperbaric-oxygen-therapy-and-cerebral-palsy/DE3CFA29619588A80B10E8D0EE1DDE06