By Fiona Macrae
Pressurised oxygen chambers, similar to those used by divers, could help treat autism, research shows.
Using a hyperbaric oxygen chamber twice a day for four weeks significantly improved the symptoms of autism in a group of five to seven year olds.
Improvements were seen in 80 per cent of those treated, with 30 per cent rated as ‘very much improved’ or ‘much improved’, the journal BMC Pediatrics reports.
Irritability and hyperactivity eased, while speech and social interaction improved in the youngsters treated in the chambers, which had higher than usual levels of oxygen.
It is unclear how the treatment works but it may be through raising oxygen levels in the brain, while suppressing inflammation and unwanted immune reactions.
The researchers, from the International Child Development Resource Centre in Florida, said the inclusion of dummy hyperbaric oxygen chambers as well as real ones made the results more reliable than those of previous studies.
They said: ‘In the light of the positive results of this study and those of several previous studies, the use of hyperbaric treatment appears to be a promising treatment for children with autism.’
They added that more research was needed to determine if the effects were long-lasting or if on-going treatment would be required.
Richard Mills, of Research Autism, welcomed the research but cautioned that parents can expect to pay thousands of pounds for a course of treatment.
He said: ‘Hyperbaric oxygen treatment has been known to be beneficial with children and adults with a range of neurological conditions and there’s no reason to suppose some individuals with autism won’t show some benefit.
‘But it is not clear cut and parents should be aware of the costs and of the dangers.’
Side-effects include fits, short-sightedness and claustrophobia.