Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy
Support for Post-Concussion Symptoms
by Sheila Julson
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) is the use of increased atmospheric pressure and increased pressure of oxygen to treat inflammatory diseases. The increased atmospheric pressure allows oxygen to saturate the bloodstream, plasma and cerebral spinal fluid, which could lead to the growth of new tissues and cells.
While HBOT is used worldwide in treating multiple inflammatory conditions such as concussions, it is still not widely accepted in traditional American medicine except for insurance-approved conditions, such as decompression sickness or burns—but integrative and alternative doctors are hoping to change that through research on how HBOT can treat mild traumatic brain injuries.
Dr. Eleanor Womack, M.D., offers hyperbaric oxygen therapy through ATX Hyperbarics, located near her practice, Westlake Medical Arts, in West Lake Hills. She is currently participating in an Acute Concussion Study, funded by the Oxygen Foundation, Inc., in which 100 athlete subjects would receive acute concussion treatment with HBOT. Any athlete in Central Texas that receives a diagnosed concussion and is within 72 hours of event impact is eligible to participate in the study at no cost.
Womack notes that a challenge in getting HBOT accepted in America for “off-label” conditions—joint pain or concussions—is because of American medicine’s definition of hyperbaric atmospheric pressure. “While the rest of the world sees mid-level or lower hyperbaric pressure as being beneficial to the nervous system, America still only defines hyperbaric as between 2.4 and eight atmospheres, which is the pressure commonly run at hyperbaric chambers in hospitals,” she explains. “But work in other countries at lower pressures shows that as long as you stay at or below two atmospheres, you will heal the brain. Pressures are adjusted between 1.3 and two atmospheres for treating brain injury.”
The HBOT provides oxygen saturation needed to quickly decrease the edema, or swelling, in a closed space inside the brain, getting deep into the wound to provide healing. “Hyperbaric is also a gene therapy because it upregulates approximately 4,000 healing genes, and it downregulates the inflammatory pre-cell death genes. By doing hyperbaric for just one hour, I’m upregulating 4,000 good genes and downregulating 4,000 bad genes that would lead toward further cell sickness,” Womack says.
Dr. Daphne Denham, of Chicago, did a similar study using HBOT to treat athletic brain injuries. Womack says most subjects in that study showed improvement or a complete resolution of symptoms within hours of treatment. “Their headaches, sound and light sensitivities and nausea had resolved within three treatments,” Womack adds.
The Acute Concussion Study conducted through ATX Hyperbarics is open to any athlete or sports spectator. While people typically associate concussions with rough-and-tumble sports like football, Womack says they’ve successfully treated two patients who were mothers of volleyball players that got hit with the ball.
“Sports can be quite dangerous for the spectators, too,” Womack emphasizes. “The sports that are actually the most dangerous for young people for getting hit in the head are soccer, and also lacrosse, because players often get hit in the head with the lacrosse racket.”
Most concussed athletes or spectators are candidates for the Acute Concussion Study, except for those presenting any ear pathology, nasal congestion or lung conditions, which could worsen under hyperbaric pressure. When patients come in with a concussion, they are put into the HBOT chamber while Womack and her staff closely monitor the patient’s face and communicate via walkie-talkie.
“We would bring the pressure down to 1.3 atmospheres, and then we would go from 1.3 to 1.5 and watch their symptoms and see how they’re feeling,” she says. “Over the next 90 minutes, we would get to the point where we eliminate their symptoms, not going higher than 1.75 atmospheres for patients with head injuries. As symptoms go away, we’re watching pressure while they’re undergoing the treatment, and once they achieve symptom resolution, they stay at that pressure for the remainder of the treatment until they get out. The following day, we go through the same steps again, but aim for the pressure that relieved their symptoms.”
ATX Hyperbarics is located in the Westlake Medical Center, 5656 Bee Cave Rd., Ste. C-103, in West Lake Hills. For more information about hyperbaric treatment and the Acute Concussion Study, call 512-953-9421 or visit ATXHyperbarics.com.