Hyperbaric oxygen and inflammation – Jane Dean explains how it can also be used to treat allergy and, maybe, even autism


Every medical and nursing student has to commit to memory the four classical symptoms of inflammation which are heat, redness, pain and swelling. Their education is further advanced by recognising the causes of inflammation which include tissue reactions to infection, injury, radiation, chemicals, heat or cold and cancer. Inflammation can occur in any type of tissue, for example:-

  1. Nervous system, inflammation of the membranes covering the brain and spinal cord producing, meningitis or of the brain itself, encephalitis.
  2. Inflammation of the heart producing myocarditis or endocarditis
  3. Inflammation of joints producing rheumatoid arthritis.
  4. Inflammation of the gut causing inflammatory bowel disease.
  5. Inflammation of the lung causing pneumonia.

Allergy as an inflammatory process

Allergy is also an inflammatory process but remains less well recognised by orthodox medicine. Regardless of the type of hypersensitivity reaction involved, the symptoms of allergy result from the release of inflammatory mediators (1). The release of these specialised mediators produce symptoms  familiar to many, which include, stuffy nose, skin reactions and itching, red eyes, breathing problems and tissue swelling. Each inflammatory mediator has its own special effect. (2) The gut is the control centre for inflammation.

The release of histamine, for example, increases the permeability of capillaries causing fluid to move from the confines of the circulatory and lymph systems into the tissues causing swelling and inflammation. Histamine also causes contraction of the muscles surrounding the airways; this reduces the diameter of the airway producing an asthma attack.

Defence mechanisms

Inflammation is only part of the defence mechanism the body employs in an attempt to heal itself. White blood cells are produced in abundance, and require fuel, in the form of saturated fat and cholesterol, both for cell formation and repair. Oxygen is required to support white blood cells in the inflammatory process, so in this respect oxygen acts as an anti inflammatory treatment.(3)

Inflammation which is left unrecognised and untreated becomes chronic, that is, the body has insufficient energy to muster all immune defences. Chronic inflammation always causes damage to the affected tissue as in joints and bowel. Inflammation is made worse by stress as histamine will be produced as a stress response.

The inflammation that follows allergic reactions is very similar to that provoked by infection, although the balance of immune cells and inflammatory mediators is slightly different.

We also know that for the body to produce a fully functioning immune system specific nutrients are required in the right quantities. Vitamin D has received much attention in recent years, known as the sunshine vitamin as it requires sunlight to synthesise under the skin. Vitamin D deficiency is associated with inflammation. (4)

We have seen how essential fatty acids are required by white blood cells and help to protect us from inflammation. A diet low in dense animal fats and high in chemically altered vegetable oils, will tip the balance of anti inflammatory omega fats causing a high omega 6:3 ratio which, uncorrected, will be pro-inflammatory. (5) 

The use of Hyperbaric Oxygen Treatment for Inflammation

Hyperbaric oxygen treatment ( HBOT) simply means providing oxygen at greater than atmospheric pressure. Oxygen, it must be remembered, is a primary healer. Oxygen is required by every cell in the body for survival and providing an oxygen rich environment, will allow the body to heal itself and reduce areas of inflammation.

During treatment in a hyperbaric chamber, breathing in 100% oxygen, the blood stream become hyper saturated with oxygen allowing all tissues access to this life giving gas. Exposure at 3atm of pressure increases the amount of dissolved oxygen in the plasma from 0.32% to 6.8% by volume. This oxygenation of plasma alone is great enough to sustain life even with extremely low haemoglobin levels. For anyone refusing blood transfusions, for moral or religious reasons, ie Jehovah’s Witness’s or for those situations when blood is unavailable, hyperbaric oxygen treatment can indeed be life saving.

Autism and inflammation

A number of studies have linked autism to allergy and inflammation of the gut.(6) Numerous theories abound as to the rising number of children diagnosed as falling within the autistic spectrum. This is a political “hot potato”, since Dr Wakefield’s 1998 study published in the Lancet, made a possible link to autism with the MMR vaccine. What we do know is, inflammation of the bowel is often present in autism. The most recent study looking at this issue was undertaken by Dr Dan Rossignol and Colleagues in 2009. (known as the Rossignol Study)(7)
Sixty two children with autism with ages between 2 and 7 years were randomly assigned to 40 hourly treatments of either 1:3atm and 24% oxygen (the “treatment group”) or 1.03atm and 21% oxygen (the “control group”)

Children from the treatment group showed significant improvements in overall functioning, receptive language, social interaction, eye contact and sensory or cognitive awareness. For parents this was an exceptional breakthrough. As Dr Rossignol stated, “ we’re certainly not talking about a cure, we’re talking about improvements in behaviour, improving certain functions and quality of life”. Dr Rossignol has reviewed recent studies showing that autism is characterised by both gastrointestinal inflammation and neuroinflammation, both conditions respond favourably to oxygen treatment. Inflammation within the bowel interrupts the normal process’s of digestion and immune activity.

Professor Philip James, honorary medical director at A Breath for Life Children’s Charity, stated the study demonstrated that “oxygen was the controller of inflammation”. Further studies looking at the use of hyperbaric oxygen therapy in autism are presently taking place by Dr Wakefield in America.

All children with autism have overgrowths of abnormal bacteria in their gut. HBOT has been shown to decrease the amount of abnormal bacteria in addition to killing off invasive virus colonies. The role of HBOT on bacterial  host defence has been well documented particularly the increase in white cell activity. For those doctors who say there is no scientific evidence supporting the use of HBOT in inflammatory conditions, should contact Professor Philip James and his team via email:- oxygeninfo@byconnect.com.


  1. Joneja J V, Food Allergy and Intolerances, second edition 2000. J A Hall Publications.
  2. Willoughby D A Inflammation-Mediators & Mechanisms. Brit.Med.Bulletin, 1987 No 43, 247-477
  3. Nathan C. Oxygen and the anti inflammatory cell. 2003 Nature; 422:674-676.
  4. Cantorna M T et al, Vitamin D status & the immune system. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2004  N 80, 1717 -1720.
  5. Calder P.C Polyunsaturated fatty acids, inflammation and inflammatory disease. 2006. Journal of Clinical Nutrition. N 83 1505-1519
  6. Wakefield AJ et al Enterocolitis in children with developmental disorders. 2001 AIA Journal, Autumn issue.
  7. Rossignol D. et al Hyperbaric treatment for children with autism: a multicenter, randomized, double blind, controlled trial. 2009. BMC Paediatrics 9:21.

Jane Dean, herself a retired nurse, has long been involved with the Breath for Life charity which provides natural therapies for sick and brain injured children.

For more information www.abreathforlife.org

First published in April 2011


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