Can High-Pressure Oxygen Therapy Help Autistic Kids?

By Eliza Strickland | March 16, 2009 10:33 am

hyperbaric chambersA controversial autism treatment has gotten a credibility boost. The first rigorously scientific study of hyperbaric oxygen treatment, in which autistic children breathe in extra oxygen inside a pressurized chamber, found that children who received the treatment showed improvement in social interactions, although researchers note that the small study didn’t examine whether the treatment had long-term effects.

Study leader Dan Rossignol says the use of hyperbaric therapy for autism has been gaining popularity in the US where parents can buy their own hyperbaric chamber if they have a spare $14-17,000 [BBC News]. Other parents take their children to clinics for treatments that usually cost between $120 and $150 per session, and which typically aren’t covered by insurance providers. Rossignol says he expects the findings to generate controversy, and notes that he too was initially very sceptical of the idea but was prompted to do more research after the treatment showed benefits for his two sons who have autism. “We’re certainly not talking about a cure, we’re talking about improvements in behaviour, improving certain functions and quality of life” [BBC News]. 

The new study was the first randomized, double-blind study of the treatment, meaning that neither the subjects nor the examiners knew which children received the high-oxygen air in a room with increased pressure, and which children received normal air. The study of 62 children found that those who received 40 hours of treatment over a month were less irritable, more responsive when people spoke to them, made more eye contact and were more sociable than kids who didn’t receive it. They were also less sensitive to noise (some autistic children experience a kind of sensory overload from loud sounds and background noise). The most improvement was observed in kids older than five (the study included children ages two to seven) who had milder autism [Scientific American].

Researchers aren’t sure why the treatment may be having a beneficial effect on autistic kids. One theory is that oxygen can help reduce inflammation and improve flow of oxygen to brain tissue. Hyperbaric treatment … has been shown to have some benefit in other neurological conditions such as fetal alcohol syndrome and cerebral palsy [BBC News].

Researchers say the study’s positive results, published in the journal BMC Pediatrics, should prompt further investigations. But not everyone is convinced that the results will bear up under scrutiny. Critics also note that Rossignal [sic] is one of the biggest promoters of hyperbaric oxygen therapy for autistic children and has staked his career on obtaining positive results. The study was funded by manufacturers of the devices, who also have a vested interest [Los Angeles Times blog].  

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Image: flickr / KOMUnews

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine, Mind & Brain
  • http://google M Wasson PTA

    Can these results be believed? Where in San Antonio can I send my patients for these treatments?

  • Tom Fox MAS MS CHT

    While I welcome any study to illustrate the value of hyperbaric oxygen in the treatment of neurological injuries and disorders.The most recent article by Dr. Rosignol is being met with considerable criticism as it appears to be an inter company marketing tool. It would have been impressive if they had it study hyperbaric oxygen and not hyperbaric air. Perhaps he could have compared the Hyperbaric air with Hyperbaric oxygen at 100%.

    The pictures of chambers represented in your article are not the chambers used in the study just published. The chambers represented in your article are traditional hyperbaric chambers and usually sell between $35,000 and $40,000 used when they are in very good shape. The chambers selling at the price quoted by Dr. Rosignol are “soft Bag chambers”. These devices have limitations, concerns and their construction does not conform to safety standards established by the American Society for Mechanical Engineers that were established to protect those entering hyperbaric chambers. ( Pressure Vessels for Human Occupancy)

    This is a hyperbaric air study directed and paid for by a company that distributes the soft chamber device. The study in more directed to validating the legitimacy of a device whose representatives applied to ASME PVHO committee this month excuse these devices from safety consideration. The concerns still are valid. The purpose of these standards is real and serves to protect the safety of patients and the consumer.

  • Richard Reily

    Tom Fox’s comments should also be viewed in the light of full-disclosure. He too has a vested interest in promoting his skepticism regarding these “soft bag chambers” and has been a vocal critic of their use despite studies and anecdotal evidence to the contrary. I have no vested interest – business or personal – in either soft or hard chamber hyperbaric therapies and have used both for my son. Any neutral proponent of these ASD kids should be solely interested in their welfare and agnostic about treatments as long as they work. Creating doubt and fear about the safety of the soft bag chambers is disingenuous, since they have proven to be very safe, convenient, cost-effective, and now proven to be efficacious as well.

  • Richard Reily
  • Stephen Daugherty

    There are some alternative explanations for the effects, if the results themselves are valid. First, a physiological explanation: Autistic kids can sometimes be hypertense, and this might mean they don’t breath in as deeply. Raising the pressure and the oxygen levels might counteract this stress effect.

    Second, a cognitive explanation: some Autistics and AS children find enclosed spaces comforting. The enclosed environment of the chamber might relax them on that account.

    I wouldn’t put too much stock in this just yet. More independent studies should be made.

  • Tom Fox MAS MS CHT

    Mr. Reily

    Why is it that you or those supporting the soft bags never address the issues that I bring up. Specific issue, Safety concerns. Instead you attmpt to capitalize on people that are not trained in this area, to market a product that was not designed to provide cyclic treatments, ( where is the cycle counter?) The manufacturers of these devices do not recognize the need to construct their devices to meet industry safety standards, But instead attacks and slanders anyone who would express concern for their device. The site you reference “HBOtruth” is one site is use by the soft chamber manufacturer attempt to discredit any one that ask “uncomfortable” concerns about these devices. The sole focus of this is to increase sales without having to deal with the truth.

    Tell truth and quit blurring the lines

  • http://n/a john

    how nmany of the experts that are quoted about the use of hyperbaric chambers have children who do not have autism as asole disability? j how many have had the pleasure of acquiring a brin injury and been told they are like a autistic adult, leive me we do exist despite the knowledge of experts. it is immaterial ho paid for the studym the arguement is as useless as telling a bee it cannot fly but then again expersts declared man would never be able to leave the confines of earth, hell they even use religious evidence to support and maintain that for centuries. but then again how many of the experts have had any experiemce as deep sea welder divers” i bet not to many, last item which of th experts who claim the soft bag system or any other they can try and cook up a means to deride have yet been able to pove neubauer abd walkers findings to be wroh. again the bet is not too many. have fun shooting that idea down.

  • Honest Abe

    People Beware TOM M. FOX is a crook. I would never ever trust my life or the life of my children in his hands. He is a dangerous person with anger issues. He is not a professional. If you would like to know about my experiences please contact me at

  • Lisandra Fratus

    Excellent post. I was checking continuously this blog and I am impressed! Very useful information particularly the last part :) I care for such info much. I was seeking this particular information for a very long time. Thank you and good luck.

  • hyperbaric oxygen autism

    HBOT has given promising improvement especially to Autistic children. It helped alleviate autism symptoms thus offering patient better health and living.

  • air max for sale

    F*ckin’tremendous things here. I am very glad to see your post. Thanks a lot and i’m looking forward to contact you. Will you please drop me a e-mail?

  • Rawad

    My son is 4 years old, he infected with Autism, im from Iraq and looking for help.
    my question is that does the oxygen treatment is good in this age because the doctors of nervous system told me that this treatment is not useful in this age.
    is that correct or not.



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