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Hyperbaric oxygen therapy

At a glance: Hyperbaric oxygen therapy
Type of therapy
The claim
Improves language, social skills, eye contact and level of awareness
Suitable for
People with autism spectrum disorder (ASD)
Research rating
Find out more about this rating system in our FAQs.
Not yet reviewed by our research sources.
Warning   Side effects like claustrophobia, fatigue and headaches have been reported. In very rare circumstances, temporary short-sightedness, sinus squeeze, middle ear fluid and seizures have been reported. Middle ear pressure damage has been reported in 2% of patients. There’s also a safety concern about untrained people handling oxygen.
Estimate of the total time for family in hours per week and duration
Treatment sessions can be 45-90 minutes or longer. There are currently no standard therapeutic guidelines on the number of sessions needed for effective treatment.
Estimate of cost to family per session/item or week
Treatments cost $100-$200. Buying a hyperbaric chamber costs $4000-$17 000.

What is hyperbaric oxygen therapy?

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy involves breathing up to 100% oxygen in a pressurised chamber. The aim is to boost the amount of oxygen in the brain and reduce inflammation.

Who is hyperbaric oxygen therapy for?

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is used with people who have reduced oxygen flow to their brain. It has been used by people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

What is hyperbaric oxygen therapy used for?

Supporters claim that hyperbaric oxygen therapy improves language, social skills, eye contact and level of awareness in people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

Where does hyperbaric oxygen therapy come from?

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy was first developed in 1662 using compressed air rather than oxygen. By 1877, hyperbaric chambers were being used to treat many conditions, despite a lack of scientific evidence about the effectiveness of the treatment.

In the 1930s, hyperbaric chambers using pressurised oxygen were introduced and are now widely recognised as a treatment for burns, wounds that aren’t healing and decompression sickness (the bends).

What is the idea behind hyperbaric oxygen therapy?

Supporters of this therapy believe that autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is associated with inflammation and a lack of oxygen in the brain. So the idea is that using a hyperbaric chamber to quickly force large quantities of oxygen into the body will help reduce the characteristics of ASD.

What does hyperbaric oxygen therapy involve?

This approach requires the person with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) to lie in a hyperbaric chamber, typically for 90 minutes per session. The number of sessions varies depending on the patient’s ability to pay for them.

Cost considerations

Typically, the therapy costs $100-$200 per session, although prices vary. Some people buy hyperbaric chambers for use at home. They cost $4000-$8000 for a small chamber and up to $17 000 for a large one.

Does hyperbaric oxygen therapy work?

Some studies have shown positive effects from hyperbaric oxygen therapy, and other studies have shown that it has no effect. There’s no evidence for this as a treatment for autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

Who practises hyperbaric oxygen therapy?

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is carried out at specialised clinics. You can also do it at home if you buy your own hyperbaric chamber.

Parent education, training, support and involvement

If your child is having hyperbaric oxygen therapy, your main involvement is taking your child to the treatment clinic.

Where can you find a practitioner?

If you’re interested in hyperbaric oxygen therapy, you should speak with your GP or one of the other professionals working with your child. You could also talk with your NDIA planner, NDIS early childhood partner or NDIS local area coordination partner, if you have one.

There are many treatments for autism spectrum disorder (ASD). They range from those based on behaviour and development to those based on medicine or alternative therapy. Our article on types of interventions for children with ASD takes you through the main treatments, so you can better understand your child’s options.

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