Brain Injury Research Demonstrates Potential Of Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy


The most common causes of severe head injuries are motor vehicle accidents, falls and violence. Recent research suggests that hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) may advance the healing process in some patients with traumatic brain injuries.

Most people think of HBOT as a potentially life-saving therapy for scuba divers suffering from “the bends.” However, evidence is mounting that HBOT may be effective in treating various brain injuries, including those suffered in traffic accidents. Fundamentally, HBOT involves the therapeutic administration of pure oxygen at something greater than one atmospheric pressure.

The Treatment Concept

The concept of hyperbaric treatment dates all the way back to the mid-17th century when a man named Henshaw, an English doctor and clergyman, first created a hyperbaric chamber for medical purposes. His original chamber was a carefully sealed room linked to a complex system of valves and bellows.

In the many years since his discovery, medical personnel discovered hyperbaric oxygen chambers are potentially effective in treating decompression sickness, certain burns, difficult wounds and carbon monoxide poisoning. Now, the benefits of such therapy in the treatment of certain brain injuries are better recognized.

Hyperbaric chambers perform two key functions. First, they deliver oxygen levels higher than those found in the earth’s atmosphere, up to 100-percent pure. Second, they deliver this oxygen under pressure. By compressing oxygen molecules, the system delivers up to 10 times the normal amount delivered to the human brain through regular breathing.

These high oxygen levels appear to enhance certain connections by stimulating previously inactive neurons.

How Oxygen Therapy is Administered

To treat a patient with oxygen therapy, he/she is placed in an airtight unit, and the pressures increase as the unit supplies pure oxygen for breathing. Research suggests that HBOT not only appears to improve the oxygen supply to brain cells, it also reduces swelling typically associated with low oxygen levels. Under ideal conditions, HBOT potentially reduces the number of brain cells that die. HBOT should be administered only with a full awareness of possible adverse effects, such as lung damage, sinus damage and ear injury, that may arise from potential oxygen poisoning.

Prevalence of Head Injuries

In a 2012 study regarding HBOT and TBI, researchers how common head injuries are in America. They estimate that about 0.56 percent of the U.S. population suffers a head injury each year. Although about 40 percent of severe head injuries are fatal, the cumulative affect of head injuries among survivors is significant to the nation as a whole – an estimated two-percent of the populace live with long-term disabilities due to head injury.

Approximately 2.3 million people receive emergency room treatment every year following traffic accidents. For many of them, the primary focus is on the treatment of visible injuries such as broken bones, lacerations, spinal and back injuries. However, many of those admitted to ERs have sustained head injuries. Unfortunately, in some instances symptoms of head injury are not fully recognized or addressed.

One potential treatment that can improve a TBI patient’s functioning in some cases is HBOT. A comprehensive neurological assessment can establish whether HBOT might be beneficial to a given car accident victim suffering from a traumatic brain injury. The potential of HBOT to reduce inflammation circulation may result in faster healing of certain tissues, including brain cells damaged a car accident.

Although the brain is normally well-fed by oxygen supplied by regular breathing, this is not always true in brain-damaged individuals where oxygen levels are often insufficient for the repair of damaged cells. Although researchers continue to learn more about the healing process in the brain, evidence suggests that higher-than-normal levels of oxygen appear to revive inactive cells.

Tel Aviv University HBOT Study

There is now evidence that some brain-injured patients that had not shown improvement for lengthy periods appear to respond to HBOT, at least under certain circumstances. Lead HBOT researcher Dr. S. Elfrati, with Israel’s Tel Aviv University, monitored HBOT treatment administered to 74 stroke patients. All subjects had not shown any improvement for six months to three years. After two months of HBOT therapy, patients in the treatment group showed increased brain activity compared to the control group.

Dr. Elfrati says that, with severe brain injuries, there is a certain amount of dead tissue with which nothing can be done. However, surrounding that tissue is an area that retains a degree of metabolic functioning. HBOT appears to benefit such tissue in certain case. HBOT, as the research demonstrates, assists at least some of these cells in regaining their normal metabolic capabilities.

Some patients experienced significant gains, including improved sensations, improved use of language and even paralysis reversal. Elfrati suggests that his team’s findings add to mounting evidence that brain dysfunction is sometimes linked to insufficient energy supplies.

Why the Success?

Researchers hypothesize that the success of HBOT is related to the neuroplasticity of the brain. The study evidence suggests that certain aspects of neuroplasticity remain active, even into adulthood, perhaps more so than previously believed.

Ultimately, more research is needed to better define the degree to which HBOT can treat brain injuries. Accordingly, the team at Tel Aviv University is now specifically testing the therapy on those impacted by traumatic brain injuries.

If you or a loved one sustained a brain injury in a traffic crash, it is possible to discuss the details with a lawyer focused on relevant portions of the law. Our firm offers you such a consultation free of charge. To learn more about our legal services, please contact us.