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Traumatic and Hypoxic Brain Injury and Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy

A traumatic brain injury (TBI) is any type of injury to the brain that has lasting side effects. A TBI can happen at birth if there is an injury to the baby during labor or delivery. In fact, some cases of Cerebral Palsy are considered TBIs. A concussion is also a form of a TBI. Larger TBIs are often seen in car accident victims and injured combat veterans who experienced blunt force or blast trauma to the head. Internal injuries such as hypoxic events (near-drownings, choking, etc) and strokes are classified as non-traumatic brain injuries, but the long term effects are often similar.

An injury to the brain creates immediate swelling, or inflammation. This is a natural response to an injury as the body works to protect and respond to the injured area. Once the bleeding is controlled and scar tissue is formed, the inflammation is supposed to recede. Unfortunately, it is common for inflammation within the brain to become chronic. When the brain swells, pressure builds on top of blood vessels and it becomes difficult for the blood to flow through the injured areas. This results in decreased oxygen and nutrients in the affected area. Depending on where this occurs within the brain, the patient may experience a partial or complete loss of mobility or cognition. TBI patients often struggle with uncontrollable emotional responses, memory loss, and confusion. Severe TBIs can result in complete loss of brain function or death.

Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy has been utilized for both emergency treatment immediately following a traumatic brain injury and for treatment for the long-term symptoms of an old injury. According to research, in order for a patient to utilize HBOT during an acute TBI, they need to be treated within 48 hours of the injury. The pressurized oxygen can reduce any inflammation that has already begun at the source of the injury. It may also prevent the brain from having any long-term damage due to the lack of further inflammation in the tissues.

If a patient is unable to treat their acute TBI with hyperbaric therapy, they may still see benefits from the modality, even decades after the event. Increased oxygen to the brain may reduce residual neuroinflammation and allow for more blood flow to the damaged tissues. This may lead to partial or full repair of the brain. Research from Dr. Paul Harch and others have shown that there is no time limitation on repairing damaged brain tissue. Patients have reported regaining full mobility and cognition after a series of hyperbaric treatments.