For scuba divers, decompression sickness is a rare but real risk of their sport, affecting about 1,000 divers per year. Decompression sickness occurs when there’s a rapid change in the pressure surrounding the body. It can also occur beyond scuba diving, when a person is exposed to rapidly changing air pressure such as after flying or during high altitude hikes. Mild cases can be easily treated by breathing 100% oxygen through a mask. In serious cases of decompression sickness though, a treatment called Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT) is implemented.
HBOT helps carry extra oxygen to the body. The treatment is applied by placing the subject in a specialized chamber, which fills with pure oxygen at a higher pressure than normal. During HBOT treatments, air pressure in the chamber increases to 2-3 times normal air pressure. This helps the lungs gather more oxygen than they could at normal pressure.
15 hospitals around the United States are currently exploring whether or not HBOT could be helpful in improving patient recovery after sustaining a severe traumatic brain injury (TBI). When the brain is affected by severe trauma, it can cause cells in the brain to die, interfering with and even dismantling certain brain functions. HBOT has been shown to increase oxygen delivery to the brain. After sustaining a TBI, heightened oxygen flow to the brain could help prevent brain cell death.
TBIs are critically serious injuries. Not only can they be lethal, but the long-term effects of surviving a TBI can be as severe as permanent disability and long-lasting neurological issues. TBIs are so diverse that they can impact every imaginable aspect of a person’s body, from motor skills to emotional capacity to taste and smell.
Rapid response is important when addressing a potential TBI. The faster that a TBI can be identified and diagnosed, the better. And while there are many TBI treatments currently in use, HBOT could help mitigate the severity of these injuries. It wouldn’t reverse the effects of a brain injury, but it might be able to stop the injury from becoming more severe.
There are currently no FDA approved treatments for TBIs. If these studies yield successful results, HBOT has a chance to be the first. More importantly, it may drastically reduce the long-term effects of TBI for many patients.
Posted on April 12 2021 in Blog