Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy For Autism

  • Priyanshi SikkaM.Sc in Pharmacovigilance & Clinical Research, Pharmaceutical Sciences, Chitkara University
  • Pranjal Ajit YeoleBachelor's of Biological Sciences, Biology/Biological Sciences, General, University of Warwick, UK

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Autism is a varied condition that impacts 1 in 44 kids in the U.S. Hyperbaric oxygen Therapy (HBOT) aims to address compromised oxygen supply in autism, thus offering potential benefits. Henry’s Law grounds the therapy’s mechanism and involves a hyperbaric chamber for rapid oxygen delivery. This has proven to be very effective in treating autism, thus making the cells rich in oxygen which were previously deprived. Safety considerations include minor side effects and precautions to mitigate severe risks. Ongoing research and consultation with healthcare professionals are essential for informed decisions.

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy in autism

Have you ever wondered what autism is? In simple terms, it’s a unique way of experiencing the world. In biological terms, Autism may be defined as a complex and diverse neurodevelopmental condition affecting how individuals perceive the world and interact with others. It mainly exerts an influence on an individual's social, communicative and behavioural functions.1

Autism is not a one-size-fits-all condition, rather it’s a spectrum covering a diverse range where each individual brings their strengths and challenges.

According to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1 in 44 children in the United States is diagnosed with ASD.2 Based on this frequency, one can easily compute how common autism is and thus concludethere’s an urgency for effective treatments. One potential solution is Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT).3 But what exactly is this therapy? How does it fit into the picture of Autism? Before we jump into treatments, let’s learn more about autism itself.

Now that we have a basic understanding of autism, let’s take a closer look at its unique characteristics.4 These include

  • Difficulty in maintaining relationships and social connections
  • Repetitive language
  • Difficulty with non-verbal communication
  • Intense focus on specific interests
  • Varied cognitive abilities
  • Challenges to adapt changes
  • Atypical language development

If you want to learn more, I recommend watching the series:
“The Good Doctor”, where the main character navigates the challenges of the same disorder, offering a unique perspective on autism and exhibits some of the characteristics mentioned above.

How does autism impact the functioning of the brain?

Researchers believe that in autism something affects how the brain develops, either before or after birth, which still needs to be explored more. The development of brain cells undergoes some influence at certain stages affecting different areas of the brain including the cerebral cortex, amygdala, hippocampus and corpus callosum.5

Here are some research findings that address crucial aspects that are necessary to understand and potentially discover solutions. These include

  • The connections in the brain stay active for a longer time which could be a limiting factor for people with autism, thus making it difficult for someone to shift from one stimulus to another6
  • It was found that people with autism have significantly increased plasma cytokines, thus making it difficult to communicate effectively
  • The blood flow is found to be inconsistent in certain brain areas, thus altering the delivery of oxygen7
  • An elevated blood flow to the white matter of the brain is also depicted in various research which potentially suggests that this heightened blood flow is the brain’s way of compensating for tissues including various deficiencies

How hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) can support autism?

Having covered various aspects of autism, let’s move on to something that might help - Hyperbaric oxygen therapy which is a special treatment that could make a difference.

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy stands out in the realm of medical treatments. It’s a process where individuals are exposed to pure oxygen at higher-than-normal atmospheric pressure, thus allowing them to absorb more oxygen which can subsequently have higher therapeutic benefits.

We have already discussed how lack of oxygen and blood supply can be the triggering elements in autism.7 Thus, this technique helps in delivering oxygen to those areas which have already been starved, promoting them to function well.8 Let’s talk about the benefits it could offer.9

  • Improved cerebral infusion
  • Production of pro-inflammatory cytokines
  • Reduced oxidative stress
  • Altering Neuroplasticity
  • Destroyed dysfunctional mitochondria
  • Promoted antioxidant enzymes

Mechanism involved in HBOT

It is well known that an individual requires oxygen to provide energy and supporting cellular respiration. In a condition like autism, where the oxygen demand is compromised HBOT is a great solution.10 The fundamental principle is based on Henry’s Law, which states that by elevating atmospheric pressure the amount of oxygen dissolved in plasma also elevates, thus creating a bioavailable environment.8,11

This elevated pressure, combined with higher oxygen concentrations, significantly raises plasma oxygen content, potentially meeting the body’s oxygen needs without solely relying on hemoglobin. The concept revolves around utilizing a hyperbaric chamber to rapidly introduce a significant amount of oxygen into the body, thus aiming to alleviate certain characteristics associated with autism.

Is HBOT actually safe?

The safety of HBOT for autism is a great concern. Many studies have been conducted to check the safety and efficacy of the same.12,13 While HBOT is generally considered safe when administered by trained professionals in controlled settings. The research is still ongoing and much is still needed to be explored.

However, an individual must take into account their health condition, potential risks and consult with healthcare professionals before considering HBOT for autism.

Possible minor side effects can include:

  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea

There are some additional more severe side effects, which are to be taken care of. This includes:

  1. Sinus Damage: At times, the negative pressure gradient can cause inflammation in the sinus and thus block it14
  2. Lung Damage: Pressure changes can sometimes lead to lung damage, which may also rupture the air passages in the lungs. Thus, patients with asthma need special attention!
  3. Oxygen toxicity and seizures: The elevated level of oxygen might be poisonous to the whole body, thus leading to chest pain, breathlessness symptoms, and can subsequently result in seizures
  4. Claustrophobia: The therapy is often performed in an enclosed chamber, so some patients might experience claustrophobia especially if they have a fear of enclosed spaces. However, administering anesthesia to an individual might solve the problem

Precautions and considerations

  • Therapy sessions should be limited to two hours to ensure safety
  • HBOT should be avoided during flu, cold or recent ear surgery
  • Caution is needed for claustrophobic children and autistic adults considering HBOT12,14
  • Consultation with a healthcare professional is crucial before undergoing HBOT
  • Pregnant women should consult with their providers before this therapy
  • The pressure in the chamber must not exceed three times the normal external pressure


So, to wrap it up Hyperbaric Oxygen therapy seems like a hopeful path for individuals dealing with autism. It could make a positive difference. Autism is complex and impacts major parts of the brain. HBOT might bring better oxygen flow, reduce oxidative stress, and help the brain work better for people with autism.

The collaborative efforts of researchers, healthcare professionals, and individuals within the autism community contribute to unravelling the mysteries and refining the potential of HBOT. However, certain precautions are still to be kept in mind for effective solutions.


  1. Erba HW. Early intervention programs for children with autism: Conceptual frameworks for implementation. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry [Internet]. 2000 [cited 2024 Jan 26]; 70(1):82–94. Available from: http://doi.apa.org/getdoi.cfm?doi=10.1037/h0087826.
  2. CDC. Basics About Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) | NCBDDD | CDC. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [Internet]. 2022 [cited 2024 Jan 26]. Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/facts.html.
  3. Podgórska-Bednarz J, Perenc L. Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy for Children and Youth with Autism Spectrum Disorder: A Review. Brain Sciences [Internet]. 2021 [cited 2024 Jan 26]; 11(7):916. Available from: https://www.mdpi.com/2076-3425/11/7/916.
  4. AboutKidsHealth [Internet]. [cited 2024 Jan 26]. Available from: https://www.aboutkidshealth.ca:443/article?contentid=1494&language=english.
  5. Study Provides Evidence That Autism Affects Functioning of Entire Brain. National Institutes of Health (NIH) [Internet]. 2015 [cited 2024 Jan 26]. Available from: https://www.nih.gov/news-events/news-releases/study-provides-evidence-autism-affects-functioning-entire-brain.
  6. AAS DM. Autism Parenting Magazine [Internet]. 2022. A Neuroscientific View of How Autism Affects The Brain; [cited 2024 Jan 26]. Available from: https://www.autismparentingmagazine.com/autism-affects-brain/.
  7. How Do Autistic Brains Work? [Internet]. [cited 2024 Jan 26]. Available from: https://www.thetreetop.com/aba-therapy/how-do-autistic-brains-work.
  8. Xiong T, Chen H, Luo R, Mu D. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy for people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Cochrane Database Syst Rev [Internet]. 2016 [cited 2024 Jan 26]; 2016(10):CD010922. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6464144/.
  9. The role of hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) in Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is still highly debated.; [cited 2024 Jan 26]. Available from: https://hbot-india.com/role-of-hyperbaric-oxygen-therapy-in-autism/.
  10. Rossignol DA, Rossignol LW, James SJ, Melnyk S, Mumper E. The effects of hyperbaric oxygen therapy on oxidative stress, inflammation, and symptoms in children with autism: an open-label pilot study. BMC Pediatrics [Internet]. 2007 [cited 2024 Jan 26]; 7(1):36. Available from: https://doi.org/10.1186/1471-2431-7-36.
  11. Current Research on Hyperbaric Chambers and Autism. Aalto Hyperbaric Medical Group [Internet]. 2023 [cited 2024 Jan 26]. Available from: https://www.aaltohyperbaric.com/current-research-on-hyperbaric-chambers-and-autism/.
  12. Complications of Hyperbaric Oxygen Treatment [Internet]. 2019 [cited 2024 Jan 26]. Available from: https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/treatment-tests-and-therapies/complications-of-hyperbaric-oxygen-treatment.
  13. Commissioner O of the. Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy: Get the Facts. FDA [Internet]. 2021 [cited 2024 Jan 26]. Available from: https://www.fda.gov/consumers/consumer-updates/hyperbaric-oxygen-therapy-get-facts.
  14. Precautions to Take Before Treatment - Wound Integrity | Dallas, Texas. Wound Integrity [Internet]. [cited 2024 Jan 26]. Available from: https://www.woundintegrity.com/wound-care-info-center/hyperbaric-oxygen-therapy/precautions-to-take-before-treatment/.

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This content is purely informational and isn’t medical guidance. It shouldn’t replace professional medical counsel. Always consult your physician regarding treatment risks and benefits. See our editorial standards for more details.

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Priyanshi Sikka

M.Sc in Pharmacovigilance & Clinical Research, Pharmaceutical Sciences, Chitkara University

Priyanshi Sikka, a Pharmacist equipped with a Master's degree in Pharmacovigilance and Clinical Research from Chitkara University, India. Proficient in ICSR processing, MedDRA coding, and narrative crafting, Priyanshi brings a depth of expertise to her practice. Beyond her professional role, she serves as a freelance science educator for senior secondary students, sharing her passion for learning. Priyanshi's dedication to advancing knowledge is evident through her published works in respected journals.

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