The Healing Power of Hyperbaric Oxygen Treatment Helps Treat Infection, Burns, Stroke, Autism, Migraine, and Moreby Paul G. Harch MD

What do flesh-eating bacteria, diabetic foot ulcers and carbon monoxide poisoning have in common?

They all are on the list of 14 medical conditions approved for treatment with hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT)-breathing 100% oxygen under pressure while fully enclosed in a hyperbaric oxygen chamber. And there are many other conditions not yet officially approved that can benefit from the way HBOT treats disease.

HBOT is best known as a treatment for scuba divers with decompression sickness, or “the bends” -when nitrogen bubbles form in the blood and other tissues. HBOT works partly by compressing those bubbles and dissolving them.

There are currently 14 FDA approved uses for Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT).
In the 1960s, doctors in the Netherlands discovered that HBOT could treat a life-threatening infection called gas gangrene, which can occur after severe wounds, such as those from gunshots and car accidents. The oxygen kills the anaerobic (nonoxygen-using) bacteria that cause the infection.

In 1965, Japanese doctors used HBOT to treat carbon monoxide poisoning from a coal mine fire. The oxygen displaces the carbon monoxide that is stuck to red blood cells.

The doctors also found that burns healed faster among patients treated with HBOT, generating another use for the therapy. Oxygen can reduce the secondary inflammatory reaction that accompanies any injury-the activation of the immune system’s white blood cells and their subsequent discharge of toxic chemicals and enzymes, which further damages tissue.

The Undersea and Hyperbaric Medical Society (UHMS)-an organization representing physicians, nurses and technicians in the field of hyperbaric medicine-met with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and recommended HBOT for 14 specific conditions. These conditions are eased or aggravated by reduced oxygen level in body tissue.

More than 30 years later, those approved conditions remain much the same.

HBOT for Air or Gas Embolism
An air or gas embolism is caused by air in the arteries caused by diving or an invasive medical procedure that punctures an artery or lung.

HBOT for Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
Carbon monoxide poisoning or CO poisoning complicated by cyanide poisoning. Also includes poisoning from methylene chloride.

HBOT for Gas Gangrene
The medical names for these severe infections of the muscle are clostridial myositis and myonecrosis.

HBOT for Crush injury
Acute ischemias (loss of blood flow)-usually caused by heavy equipment.

HBOT for Decompression Sickness
Decompression sickness is one of the first conditions treated with HBOT. It is brought on when a diver ascends too quickly and does not allow the oxygen in the body to expand at a safe rate.

HBOT for Arterial Insufficiencies
including problem wounds; this category includes diabetic foot ulcers, which afflict one out of five people with type 2 diabetes and can lead to amputation. Recently added to this category was central retinal artery occlusion, or “stroke of the eye,” from blockages in the arteries of the eye.

HBOT for Severe Anemia
Severe Anemia is any acute, severe blood loss, such as from a wound on the battlefield or severe trauma.

HBOT for Intracranial Abscess
(an accumulation of infected material); these abscesses of the brain are common in patients with abnormal immune systems.

HBOT for Necrotizing soft tissue infections
From “flesh-eating bacteria,” these severe infections usually progress rapidly.

HBOT for Osteomyelitis
Chronic bone infections that resist standard treatment most common in the lower leg after severe trauma.

HBOT for Delayed Radiation Injury
Radiation damages blood vessels, and the lack of blood supply eventually can cause wounds to form in soft tissue and bone.

HBOT for Compromised Skin Grafts and Flaps
Grafts and flaps of skin and other tissue (cartilage, bone, fat) are used in reconstructive surgery (such as breast reconstruction after a mastectomy). In some cases, blood supply to the graft or flap is compromised, causing complications.

HBOT for Thermal burn Injury
From fire or heat.

HBOT for Idiopathic Sudden Sensorineural Hearing Loss
Classically defined as a hearing loss of at least 30 dB over at least three contiguous frequencies – occurring within three days. This is the latest approved indication added by UHMS Board of Directors late 2011.

Important: HBOT typically does not replace other treatments; it adds healing power to existing therapies. Always ask your doctor if HBOT is right for you. It is safe medical procedure but not without risk. Patients with severe congestive heart failure should be screened carefully before treatment HBOT could worsen the condition.

How else can Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy Help?

Recent research has shown that HBOT can alternative treatment to a variety of health problems including wound care. However, in the US-because of institutional politics, insurance regulations and other factors-many science-supported indications remain unapproved. These include …

HBOT for Stroke
There have been more than 30 human studies showing that HBOT can minimize injury and improve outcome if used shortly after a stroke. Other research shows that it can improve function even years after a stroke-particularly in patients who had strokes that don’t involve paralysis.

HBOT for Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)
Studies show a reduction of up to 60% in death from TBI -severe head injuries from car accidents, falls and violence.

HBOT for Cardiac Problems
Research shows that HBOT before or shortly after open heart surgery can reduce by 30% the common postsurgical loss of cognitive function (memory, concentration, etc.).

HBOT Treatment for Migraine
While research shows both positive effects and no effects of HBOT on migraine headaches, my experience has shown that the majority of patients with migraine headaches and headaches from trauma have experienced significant relief. This is true in the current study I am doing on brain-injured US servicemen in whom headaches are a primary complaint.

HBOT Treatment for Autism
HBOT helps autism in a variety of ways. HBOT has anti-inflammatory effects, and autism has been associated with inflammation in the brain. Autism also can be caused by other types of insults to the brain, such as birth insults from low oxygen. HBOT treats these “scars” similar to the way it treats the “scars” of stroke.

Where to find it and find out more about Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy

Dr. Harch has used hyperbaric oxygen therapy to treat more than 70 different cerebral disorders, including stroke, dementia, autism and traumatic brain injury.

Learn more about his astonishing work in The Oxygen Revolution: Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy: The Groundbreaking New Treatment for Stroke, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Arthritis, Autism, Learning Disabilities and More.

HBOT is available at some hospitals and at freestanding clinics

Hospitals with hyperbaric oxygen chambers readily treat approved conditions. Some hospitals are also willing to treat conditions not on the approved list. To find a hospital, go to

Freestanding Clinics
You are more likely to receive treatment for a nonapproved condition at a freestanding clinic like the Family Physicians Center here in Louisiana. (HBOT usually involves 40 or more treatments, each typically lasting from one to two hours.)

You can find a list of freestanding centers at, under the “Treatment” section or go to, which lists centers that treat children but may also treat adults.

Each insurer has its own list of what is acceptably treated with HBOT. Medicare and Medicaid have their own lists. It is likely that if you use a freestanding clinic, you will pay for HBOT out-of-pocket. Some facilities treat brain-injured veterans at a reduced cost.

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