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Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT) For Children With Autism

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Having a son with autism, makes moms like me start spending their evenings on the Internet.   You don’t exactly get a medical degree, but you teach yourself enough to be able to converse intelligently with your doctor, fight with your regular pediatrician, stop giving shots, find a DAN! Doctor in your area, and focus on finding a medical professional who will help you implement the protocols you are most interested in.

Through the course of my research, I came across a “controversial” (aren’t they all?) treatment for autism called Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (or HBOT).   This therapy is widely known for helping divers who “get the bends” after deep sea diving, and surfacing too quickly.  It can also be used to help oxygenate patients who have been in near-drowning incidents, babies deprived of oxygen at birth, and stroke victims.  Some even say it has anti-aging properties.

Hyperbaric therapy involves going into a small chamber, like a sleeping bag tube (a little larger) and inflating it like a balloon with air.  The pressure goes up and your ears pop, like going on an airplane ride.  As pressure increases, the gas in your body (oxygen) turns into liquid in your blood, and is able to reach and penetrate into more places in your body.  HBOT therapy has been shown to be very helpful for healing stubborn wounds, for example.  It can also reduce inflammation, especially in the brain, and help bring blood to areas of the brain that were not highly oxygenated/active before.

They can actually do brain scans and before-and-after tests showing the increased activity in the “correct” areas of the brain thanks to HBOT therapy.

What Does HBOT Research Show?

Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy is theoretically sound and proven in some studies.  There are not enough studies, or big enough studies to make Hyperbaric therapy a “main stream” treatment for autism.  There is anecdotal evidence from LOTS of people (that’s the way critical mass for new treatments often develops) and some studies showing it is effective, and some showing no results.

Dr. Neubrander, a biomedical autism doctor in New Jersey, and pioneer of the MB-12 injection therapy that has proven to be widely effective, makes hyperbaric oxygen therapy an important part of his practice.  He is into data-collection, and has several first-person accounts from parents who have seen dramatic positive changes in their children’s autistic behavior as a results of Hyperbaric Therapy.

In addition to the research, there are a tremendous number of HBOT success stories and personal testimonials from parents.

What is the Best HBOT Protocol for Autism Patients?

Everyone has a different protocol for using hyperbaric oxygen therapy to treat autism.  Dr. Neubrander currently recommends (I believe) an initial trial run of 90 sessions,  over a 2-month span of time, lasting 75 minutes each.  That means you go twice a day, and, accounting for time to inflate the chamber, you go for about an hour and a half each time.  This is quite a time commitment, and not entirely necessary.  (You can see a link to his protocol here).

For example, our doctor recommended a more relaxed schedule of 60-minutes per day at pressure, for 6 days a week.

Many practitioners say you should commit to doing at least 40 dives, as results are often not apparent before then.  (Of course, some people to see results after 1 session, or 20 sessions, but 40 seems to be a good test.)  Dr. Neubrander has mentioned that some patients only start to see results after 80 or 90 sessions which is why he patients to commit to doing a high number as a test.

In talking to Dr. Neubrander’s office manager and blogger, Rick Neubrander, I learned that they recommend all their autistic patients try the HBOT device if possible (meaning if they can afford it – it’s pricey, see below).

Of those that do the 90-dive trial, about 80% see “some” sort of positive results and 50% see results that are sufficiently compelling that they invest in further dives.  Which brings us to the issue of cost… what’s involved in getting going with Hyperbaric therapy for autism?

How Can I Get Hyperbaric Therapy For My Child? – How Much Does HBOT Cost?

Hyperbaric Therapy is generally not covered by insurance (check with your provider anyway) in most cases.  Using HBOT for autism is considered an “off label use” that is not “approved” by the FDA, and not covered by insurance, so that means if you want to do it you have to pay for it yourself.

Your options for getting access are:

1) Go to a free-standing HBOT Center

There are many Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy Centers across the nation.  They tend to be easier to work with than hospitals that have Hyperbaric equipment.  You can book (and pre-pay at a discount, in most cases) use of a hyperbaric chamber, by the hour.   Costs can run $75-$200/hour, with $100/hour being a good estimate.

Here’s what that could look like:

Some advantages of going to a free-standing center are:

  1. You keep your commitment to go when you have an appointment/Scheduling
  2. You can get access to a higher-pressure “hard chamber” when you go
  3. You have medical supervision and someone to coach you and your child through the process
  4. They often have supplemental oxygen available to use while in the chamber via an oxygen tube or mask.

However, at $100 x 40 sessions, that’s $4,000 which is not cheap.  Call around for rates and discounts in your area.  Some centers have large chambers which accommodate groups of people, so you might be able to get a lower rate someplace like that.

 

2) Rent a Hyperbaric Chamber

Chambers are available for rent.  If you are renting a chamber, the price may be around $1,000 or $1,500/month (sounds like a mortgage payment!) .  This might be a good way to go if you don’t have the cash to buy a chamber, but want to test it.

If you are diligent about going in the hyperbaric chamber twice a day, you can actually log a lot of minutes at pressure in a month or two of time.  I think this is one reason why Dr. Neubrander has his patients on such an accelerated schedule, so they can rent a chamber, test the results of 90 dives quickly, and then decide on how to get continuing access.
Renting a chamber is less expensive , although there will be shipping costs to move it, and you have to have a space for it in your house.  Additionally, you will have to go in and supervise your child (which you’d probably do at a center anyway, but you’ll be working on your own.

They cost about $300 to ship, so keep that in mind when you’re deciding where to get it and how long to keep it.

3) Buy a Hyperbaric Chamber – New or Used

Buying a chamber is an intimidating initial outlay.  You can get a new chamber for $5-$10,000 and a used chamber for roughly 75% of the cost of a new chamber.  I would strongly recommend a used chamber.  They work just as well, and most used-chamber brokers test the chambers or offer a guarantee period where you can test it and make sure its working properly.

So, let’s say you spend $5,000 on a new chamber.  This will be your most economic option of you decide to go with the chamber for long-term treatment (e.g. it works for you).

If it doesn’t work for you, you can sell it again for usually a 10-15% selling commission, plus $300 shipping.  So, your sales cost would be $750 commission + $300 shipping.

This is actually the most economical option, if you can come up with the lump sum of cash.

4) Share a Hyperbaric Chamber With Another Family

I put this in as a cost-saving measure that some families opt to do.  If your doctor often recommends using a chamber to his patients, he might have several families that are interested in the therapy and want to pool their funds to buy one.  You can put it at a central location (somebody’s house) and then all do therapy there, or you can take turns (a month on, a month off) and move the chamber to each other’s houses every month.

 

Frequently Asked Questions About Using Hyperbaric Chambers For Autistic Children

Q: Are the chambers expensive to operate? 

A: No, I they run off of a small air compressor, I have heard it mentioned online that they cost about ten cents an hour to run.

Q: What size chamber is right?

A: I got a great price on a 36” inch chamber and it is huge.  My 4 year old and two year old can fit in one half (and sit up easily) and I can lie down in the other half (head hits ceiling when I sit up all the way, but I can do it with bent neck, and I’m 5’9”) and stretch out my legs half of the way (depending on how much I want to kick the kids).  It’s very spacious, my son and I can snuggle together and read books, or each have our own space.

I think the doctor we talked to about buying one, said we could probably do a 28” pretty easily, maybe even smaller.  You probably want to avoid the 22” models unless you’re petite, as that might be tight for two people.  However, if you’re going to do the HBOT early in the morning or late at night when your kiddo is kind of snoozing, then a small one would probably be adequate.  If you’re buying, and you’re in it for the long-haul, please buy one you’ll be comfortable with!

If you bring in a video-watching device, I encourage you to make your kids keep a reasonable distance away from it (as far as possible, a few feet away, especially their heads).  There is evidence that EMF radiation from electronics and wireless devices can be especially hard on kids with autism.

Q:  Do I need to wear an oxygen mask?

A: Some people advise wearing an oxygen mask, and that’s certainly something you can discuss with your doctor.  My research has indicated that the concentration of oxygen is not the most important variable and room-level concentrations are fine.  Also, the lower pressure allowed on home-based units (1.3 units) is also acceptable.  The most important variable in your protocol occasion is frequency, so try to go every day.  The minimum recommended schedule is five days a week, although people can and do see positive results with a less frequent schedule.

Q: Do I need a prescription to use a hyperbaric chamber? 

A: Yes!  We got basically a “phone in” prescription from a doctor our HBOT vendor works with.  She just asked us questions to make sure we didn’t have any counter-indications (like lung problems or congestion.)  The risks are pretty minimal, it’s not going to blow up or catch on fire, or explode or crush you or anything like that. 😉

Q: Do I need to take anti-oxidant vitamins? 

A: Some people advise doing this (like Dr. Kartzinel in Jenny McCarthy’s book, Healing and Preventing Autism: A Complete Guide).  Our doctor did not recommend it to start with, but he said he may add them on if we are showing oxidative stress or doing more hours (we’re 6 hours/week now).

Q: Where can I get a chamber?  Is brand important? 

A: There are lots of brands, and they should all hold up pretty well, don’t pay for a big name, get a used model and save money.  Here are some links to new and used HBOT dealers.

  1. Hyperbaric Options
  2. Ebay.com
  3. Hyperbaric Oxygen
  4. Newtowne Hperbarics
  5. Healing Dives (military discount)

 

 

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