Can Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy Help with Migraines?

Sometimes, we must take drastic measures to get drastic results; hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) may be such a measure. Studies suggest this kind of therapy can help in the treatment of migraines and cluster headaches, but there’s a bit of controversy behind the treatment. I’d like to take this post to review some of the basics of HBOT, what it treats, the research and cost considerations for treatment.

Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT) – Here’s What You Should Know

The primary use for HBOT is to treat diving-related illnesses like decompression illness (DCI) or decompression sickness (DCS), which can happen when a diver surfaces too quickly.

Approximately 1,800 to 2,000 hospitals and 500-700 clinics offer hyperbaric oxygen therapy in the United States. Hospital programs only treat “indications that have been scientifically validated,” which include FDA-approved HBOT treatment for:

·         Carbon monoxide poisoning

·         Heat or fire burns

·         Gas embolism

·         Anemia

·         Arterial insufficiency

·         Skin grafts

·         Necrotizing soft tissue infections

·         Brain and sinus infections

·         Osteomyelitis

·         Radiation injury (from cancer treatments)

·         Acute traumatic ischemia (especially from crush injury)

·         Gas gangrene

Independent clinics often use HBOT to treat the other “unapproved” conditions like:

·         Migraine

·         Brain injuries

·         Sports-related injuries

·         Asthma

·         Multiple sclerosis

·         Bell’s palsy

·         Depression

·         HIV

·         Hepatitis

·         Heart disease

·         Cerebral palsy

·         Strokes

·         Spinal cord injuries

·         Parkinson’s disease

·         Alzheimer’s disease

·         AIDS

There’s a lot of controversy surrounding the treatment. Back in 2013, the Food and Drug Administration made a grossly generalized negative statement about HBOT, and the Alliance for Natural Health responded publicly, calling their statement “deceptive.”

But many are still calling for research into the use of HBOT to treat autism, ADHD, PTSD, and other behavioral and mood disorders. Research will help make HBOT more mainstream and available to the public.

The Risks and Side Effects of HBOT

Symptoms are usually mild, especially if your treatment is under two hours. Some patients complain of lightheadedness and fatigue after treatment.

Longer therapies come with risk of more severe side effects, such as:

·         Oxygen poisoning, which can lead to: lung failure, fluid in the lungs and/or seizures

·         Lung damage

·         Sinus damage

·         Nearsightedness

·         Fluid buildup or rupture of the middle ear

Here’s How it Works

Think of a great big cannister that seals you inside to breathe 100% pure oxygen in a highly pressurized room or tube. The pressure is generally 3x higher than sea level because oxygen at high pressure helps enhance tissue function and fight infection, according to the Undersea and Hyperbolic Medical Society.

HBOT is a simple outpatient procedure, and you’re probably going to need a few sessions to get the desired results. Depending on the clinic, you could end up in an individual machine or a small room with a couple other people. Sessions can last anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours. Chronic illnesses like migraine usually take the maximum amount of time.

Someone with severe DCI (remember the diver who came up too quickly?) could be in a chamber for up to five hours for treatment. 

What the Research Says About Migraine Treatment

Scientists have been researching HBOT treatments for years. In 2016, one study found that HBOT could help improve the mental function of TBI patients. Even though the Food and Drug Administration has called migraine an “unapproved” condition that can be treated with HBOT that doesn’t mean there hasn’t been evidence of benefit.

This study showed HBOT was totally effective in the treatment and total “termination” of acute migraines.

The Cost of HBOT Treatments

I called HBOT a “drastic” measure at the beginning of this blog because it can be expensive. Other than that, it’s a perfectly safe and acceptable measure to try if you’ve tried everything else and still have no relief.

Costs range anywhere from $250-$500 per session at clinics, and a whopping average of $500,000 at hospitals. HBOT is not covered by most insurance carriers, so these costs would be out of pocket.

So, what do you think about HBOT? Is it something you’d consider? Do you have more questions? Comment below! You’re never alone in your migraine journey. I’m a call, email, or comment away.

Hyperbaric sources:

US News: “Hospitals Tout Benefits of Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy
Kaiser Health News: “Hospitals Ramp Up Hyperbaric Therapy For Diabetics, Despite Concerns
U.S. National Library of Medicine: “Normobaric and Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy for Migraine and Cluster Headache
U.S. Food and Drug Administration: “Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy: Don’t Be Misled