Does it work? Let's find out!
While common in contact sports, concussions can sometimes lead to long-term symptoms like headaches, mood changes, sleep disturbances and cognitive problems – known as post-concussion syndrome. This is due to the damage in tiny blood vessels the impact to the head causes, consequently making it difficult for oxygen to reach and nourish brain cells.
Researchers have been finding ways to aid this, which led them to what's called hyperbaric oxygen therapy. This involved "sitting in a pressurised chamber and breathing 100 per cent oxygen to increase the amount of oxygen dissolving in the blood and flowing into the brain".
A 2013 study showed that 40 1-hour sessions of this treatment actually improved cognitive functioning and quality of life of the 56 participants that has the syndrome for at least 6 years. However, the controversy arose when a 2015 major military trial concluded it have no effect. While the treatment benefited 72 military personnel, a "sham" treatment--involving similar conditions except with no extra oxygen--did as well.
Now, a study by Shai Efrati at Tel-Aviv University in Israel and his colleagues utilized MRI to examine how this controversial healing effect of hyperbaric oxygen. Testing this on 15 patients, they found that, indeed, the treatment stimulate regrowth of blood vessels and nerve fibres! “Once the extra oxygen diffuses into damaged areas, it supplies energy and the regenerative process can happen,” says Efrati.
As to the "sham", Efrati says that the higher pressure still increases the amount of oxygen entering the bloodstream and brain. “It was meant to be a sham treatment, but it was actually an active treatment,” he says.
Of which Lindell Weaver at the University of Utah, author of the 2015 study, agrees. “The military population is also more complicated because of the high levels of PTSD and medication use, plus their injuries are different,” he says. Weaver even had another study that shows how the hyperbaric oxygen therapy is actually better than his previous study's sham treatment! “I think the burden of evidence is starting to suggest there is a favourable effect, but there are still lots of unanswered questions,” he says.
“We believe hyperbaric oxygen works and we now have 20,000 people on our waiting list from all over the world,” Efrati says. “That suggests other people are convinced too.”
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