Hyperbaric Oxygen Chambers

Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT) has many scientists and researchers looking at the possibility of using oxygen, either as a stand-alone treatment or as a combination treatment to be used with combination of different antibiotics. Dr.

Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT) has many scientists and researchers looking at the possibility of using oxygen,

either as a stand-alone treatment or as a combination treatment to be used with combination of different antibiotics.

Dr. William Fife, a pioneer in undersea medicine first for the Air Force and now  at Texas A & M University, has published extensive research demonstrating profound improvements in Lyme disease patients treated with HBOT. These improvements include pain reduction, return of clarity of the mind, and reduction of depression.

Dr. Fife was active with the HydroLab saturation

diving research program funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration having spent 28 days in saturation in the habitat performing physiology experiments.

The first uses of hydrox, a gas mixture of hydrogen and oxygen is used as breathing gas in very deep diving are usually attributed to six ocean dive trials by the Swedish engineer, Arne Zetterstrom in 1945.  Dr. Fife later showed that hydrox would allow divers to descend and work at great depths.

Dr. Fife also developed the

first decompression tables for the use of the mixture. The French engineering company COMEX later applied Fife’s work in developing their HYDRA dive series.

Much of his other diving medical research was focused on women in diving and spinal cord decompression sickness.

Fife’s interest in clinical hyperbaric medicine lead to several research projects to look for new indications for the use of HBOT. It has been estimated that about half of the 2,000 patient treatments done by his lab were for


These projects included the treatment of:


However, when HBOT is administered by trained health care individuals these risks are minimal.  As with any medical procedure, the evaluation and understanding of the current health status of the patient is of

prime importance.  It is also critical that patients understand that HBOT does not work for everybody.

Minor ear discomfort is the most common inconvenience related to HBO therapy. It is helpful to remember that the initial stage of each HBO treatment is similar to sitting in an aircraft while it descends. Like the airline passenger, the patient’s ears have to adjust to a change in air pressure. The hyperbaric health care professional works with the patient or parent and teaches them various

techniques on how to equalize pressure in the ears, such as swallowing.

If one cannot equalize the pressure in the ears, damage can occur to the eardrum. However, this is very rare. Some individuals who experience ear discomfort may require a procedure called a Myringotomy, or what is commonly called placing tubes in the ears. An ear, nose and throat specialist usually performs this outpatient procedure right in the doctor’s office.

Other complications can occur if a patient has lung abnormalities

such as emphysema. However, with proper evaluation prior to HBOT treatment any concerns can be eliminated.

Why does HBO therapy show promise in helping Lyme patients?

First, we are reminded that Lyme bacteria are debilitated in high oxygen environments. Research by F. Austin demonstrated the effect of oxygen on the Lyme organism. The study suggests that the Bb organism is sensitive to high concentrations of oxygen at the cellular level, or what is termed, elevated tissue partial pressures.In

other words, the Bb organism doesn’t do well in a biological environment similar to that created in the body during HBOT treatment.

It is also notable that in Dr. Fife’s study, all of the study’s participants were veterans of antibiotic therapy. These were adults and children who had tried and failed antibiotic therapy, including the big gun in the antibiotic arsenal: intravenous antibiotics. It appeared that the study had chosen the most difficult subjects to test. These were Lyme patients with

chronic symptoms and most of them probably had nothing to lose. The fact that 85 percent of these Lyme patients showed improvement seems remarkable.

There are other benefits of HBOT that may play a role in treating Lyme disease, but were not mentioned in the Texas A & M study.

Some of these benefits are theoretical and not proven;

others are well known and considered established fact in Hyperbaric Medicine. Many of these additional benefits are based on the belief that HBO therapy

and antibiotic therapy work in a synergistic manner. In this context, synergistic is defined as the combination of both treatments (HBOT and antibiotic therapy) being greater than the effect of either one alone.

Antibiotics and the immune system might not be able to adversely affect (or kill) Lyme bacteria for two distinct reasons.

First, it is believed that the Bb organism is able to switch from an active to a dormant (or sleeping mode) by coating itself in the body’s protein.

Secondly it is believed that the Bb organism can hide in the body’s cells.

Both tactics may result in the immune system failing to react to the Bb organism as a foreign organism that should be destroyed. Some believe that this has the effect of neutralizing the body’s defensive mechanisms and the offensive mechanisms employed by antibiotics.

The benefits of HBOT appear to be promising, although determining the exact mechanism of action that occurs in HBOT remains the most important aspect in

the development of a reliable


In general, a better understanding of the Lyme bacterium will enable us to develop new and better methods of treating this devastating disease.

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