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Can high-pressure oxygen help autism?

March 15, 2009 | 12:36 pm

Several anecdotal reports suggest that hyperbaric oxygen therapy, in which children are placed in a pressure chamber with above-normal levels of oxygen, can improve the behavior of children with autism,  and many parents have begun subjecting their autistic children to such treatments, even though it is expensive and not covered by insurance. Physicians, moreover, do not see a biological rationale for why the therapy should work, although some suggest providing extra oxygen to the brain might be responsible for the perceived benefits.

Now Florida researchers have conducted the first controlled trial of the therapy and, although the trial was small, they also found beneficial effects.

Dr. Daniel A. Rossignol of the International Child Development Resource Center in Melbourne, Fla., and his colleagues enrolled 62 children, ages 2 to 7, at eight U.S. centers. Over the course of a month, half of the children  received 40 one-hour treatments in which they were placed in a chamber containing 24% oxygen at 1.3 atmospheres pressure. The control group received 40 treatments in a room containing 21% oxygen at 1.03 atmospheres.

The team reported Saturday in the journal BMC Pediatrics that the children in the treatment group had significant improvements in overall function, language receptiveness, social interaction, eye contact and sensory awareness. The results were most pronounced in the children over the age of 5 and in those with milder cases of autism, they said.

"We're not saying it's a cure, but ... if you can improve understanding so a kid doesn't run in front of a car, or improve sleep, that would be a benefit," Rossignol told Scientific American.

Side effects included bruised eardrums and claustrophobia.

Commercial hyperbaric chambers are typically used for treating the bends, resulting from ascending from a dive too fast, and carbon monoxide poisoning. Treatments typically cost $120 to $150 per session. Some parents have bought home units to treat their children between commercial sessions, and some experts estimate that as many as 10% of autistic children in the United States are now receiving the therapy.

Because only 31 children actually received treatment during the study, it clearly needs to be replicated in larger numbers. Researchers also need to determine how long the purported benefits persist.  Critics also note that Rossignal is one of the biggest promoters of hyperbaric oxygen therapy for autistic children and has staked his career on obtaining positive results. The study was funded by manufacturers of the devices, who also have a vested interest.

--Thomas. H. Maugh II

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Comments (3)

The conflicts of researcher Dr. Daniel Rossignal are mentioned by Maugh, "Critics also note that Rossignal is one of the biggest promoters of hyperbaric oxygen therapy for autistic children and has staked his career on obtaining positive results. The study was funded by manufacturers of the devices, who also have a vested interest."
Many of us in the autism community have spent years reading about Dr. Paul Offit vouching for vaccines. Usually he's described as "head of infectious diseases, Children's Hospital of Philadelphia," and only occasionally as the developer of the rotavirus vaccine. The contrast is glaring....NEVER IS IT NOTED that having been a member of ACIP and as a vaccine patent holder, Offit "has staked his career" on the claim that vaccines don't cause autism.
Anne Dachel
Media editor: Age of Autism

"Physicians, moreover, do not see a biological rationale for why the therapy should work."

Which physicians did you ask about this? Maybe the paper below and others that are following this effect will help lead us to the explanation:

1: Am J Physiol Heart Circ Physiol. 2006 Apr;290(4):H1378-86. Epub 2005 Nov 18.

Stem cell mobilization by hyperbaric oxygen.

Thom SR, Bhopale VM, Velazquez OC, Goldstein LJ, Thom LH, Buerk DG.

Institute for Environmental Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia,
PA 19104-6068, USA. sthom@mail.med.upenn.edu

HBOT for brain-injured children is now covered by Medicaid in about 20 states due to legal action taken by aggressive parents of cerebral palsy children. Like autism, CP is an hypoxic-ischemic brain-injury. All of the FDA-approved uses for HBOT are for the treatment of hypoxic-ischemic tissue where hypoxic is lack of oxygen and ischemic is lack of circulation--which creates hypoxia. Virtually 100% of everything prescribed for brain-injured children is not only off-label but so far off-label that nothing prescribed is FDA-approved for pediatric use--which means “the standard of medical practice” for cerebral palsy and autistic children is the prescribing of medications that are not FDA-approved for pediatric use. Therefore the off-label use of HBOT for CP/autism is actually just the standard of medical practice for these conditions; however, the hypocritical pediatric neurology community demands a higher level of "proof" of efficacy before insurance coverage is possible. The Rossignol study is far, far more of a proof of efficacy than the pediatric neurology community has ever produced for any of the drugs now prescribed to these children. See MedicaidforHBOT dot com for more information.



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