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A Study on the Benefits of HBOT for Long COVID Symptoms

The term “long COVID” describes the presence of symptoms occurring days, weeks, or months after a positive COVID test result. Long COVID affects nearly 20% of people who have otherwise recovered from the illness.

Long COVID is a relatively new problem, so there are limited treatments and even fewer options for treating the most common symptom of long COVID: fatigue. As the number of people with long COVID continues to grow, medical practitioners are now looking for the most effective treatments for their patients. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy for long COVID could be one of the answers to this puzzle.

The symptoms associated with long COVID are varied and include shortness of breath, fatigue, cough, “brain fog,” depression, and anxiety. The most prevalent symptoms are fatigue and “brain fog,” with 65% of long COVID patients reporting the onset of fatigue that continues long after the original illness, along with a large number also reporting brain fog and other signs of cognitive deficits.

In some cases, the patient’s fatigue is so severe that it negatively impacts their work performance and other activities. This is a significant problem, as the age group that is typically most affected by long COVID is adults who are actively involved in the workforce.

Researchers at the UK’s Royal College of Physicians conducted a study of ten patients to evaluate the effectiveness of hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) for long COVID. The study shows that HBOT has promise for improving fatigue, global cognition, executive function, attention, verbal function, and information processing.

What Is Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy?

The body’s tissues require a specific amount of oxygen in order to function correctly. When tissue is damaged or injured, more oxygen is needed for it to heal and survive. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy increases the amount of oxygen blood can carry. Repeated infusions of the high oxygen levels of HBOT encourage healing and normal oxygenation in the damaged tissues, even following the completion of the therapy.

Medical practitioners utilize HBOT in a variety of ways for both elective and emergency medicine. During the treatment, the patient sits in a pressurized (hyperbaric) chamber or room and breathes nearly 100% pure oxygen.

The doctor then increases the pressure of the room or individual chamber to two or three times higher than normal pressure. This allows the lungs to breathe in much more oxygen than they could under normal pressure.

The extra oxygen in the bloodstream staves off bacteria and helps speed the healing of damaged tissues by encouraging the release of stem cells and growth factors into the body.

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is FDA approved to treat conditions including:

  • Gas embolism (or what divers refer to as decompression sickness or “the bends”)
  • Carbon monoxide poisoning
  • Burns and skin grafts
  • Severe infection leading to tissue death of bone or skin
  • Wounds that won’t heal, such as diabetic foot ulcers or radiation injuries
  • Severe anemia

Additionally, HBOT is proven to be both safe and effective in treating chronic fatigue syndrome, so researchers determined that it might also be effective when applied to the fatigue associated with long COVID.

About the Subjects and Methods of the Clinical Trial

The Royal College of Physicians researchers studied ten patients suffering from severe and persistent post-COVID-19 syndrome for more than 12 weeks.

Participants’ primary symptoms were fatigue and reduced cognitive function, conditions that did not exist prior to their SARS-CoV-2 infection. The age of the study participants ranged between 24 and 74, and women made up 60% of the group. Participants met the following criteria:

  • Over 18 years old
  • Previous diagnosis of COVID-19 infection confirmed using PCR swab test or positive antibody test
  • No history of traumatic brain injury
  • No previous use of HBOT prior to the study
  • No existing lung conditions that may be adversely affected by pressure changes (including asthma, COPD, or a history of blood clots in the lungs)
  • No history of epilepsy
  • No one with sinus or ear issues that could worsen with pressure changes

All participants underwent ten HBOT sessions once daily over a 12-day period. Sessions were at 2.4 atmospheres and consisted of three 30-minute exposures to oxygen at 100%, with three five-minute breaks for air. Researchers performed validated scoring assessments of fatigue and cognitive function on days one and ten.

Researchers measured the patients’ responses to the HBOT therapy in two ways: the change in fatigue and the change in cognitive function.

Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy for Fatigue

Researchers evaluated the primary outcome (complaint of fatigue) via changes in the Chalder fatigue scale between days one and ten of the HBOT treatment. The Chalder fatigue scale is a method to measure the severity of tiredness in illnesses where fatigue is a chronic symptom. It utilizes a series of questions, and patients respond to each question according to the severity of their symptoms.

The study’s results revealed that HBOT had a statistically significant effect in reducing participants’ feelings of fatigue according to the Chalder scale. Patients reported what the Chalder scale deemed a “very large” improvement in their symptoms after the ten days of HBOT treatment.

Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy for Cognitive Function

The secondary measurement addressed changes in cognitive function between days one and ten of treatment. Scoring for the cognitive assessment included:

  • Overall cognitive score
  • Memory
  • Motor skills
  • Verbal function
  • Speed of information processing
  • Visual-spatial
  • Attention
  • Executive function

The test results revealed that participants reported a “very large” improvement in attention and information processing and “large” improvements in overall cognition, executive function, and verbal function. Other cognitive functions also improved, simply to a lesser degree.

Additional Read: Effect of Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy on Cognition, Performance, Proteomics & Telomere Length

Key Takeaways: The Future of Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy for Long COVID

What causes the lingering fatigue and feelings of brain fog after COVID? There is no concrete answer; however, scientific reports indicate that one possible explanation is prolonged tissue hypoxia.

Tissue hypoxia occurs when tissue receives inadequate oxygen and cannot remain in homeostasis. The theory behind this is that tissue hypoxia is often the common denominator among the other fatigue-related conditions that improve following HBOT, so perhaps this is related to the fatigue in long COVID.

Research into HBOT as a long COVID treatment will continue, as this particular study was the first known official evaluation of the effects of HBOT on long COVID. Through this study, researchers discovered significant improvements in fatigue and cognitive symptoms, both statistically and clinically. The results align with the patients’ observations, many of whom said that the significant improvement they experienced after HBOT had changed their lives.

Who Is a Good Candidate for HBOT?

Along with long COVID, patients suffering from an illness that causes chronic fatigue may be good candidates for HBOT to improve their quality of life. Patients with conditions such as fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, and chronic fatigue syndrome may benefit from HBOT. For patients struggling with the effects of long COVID and fighting sleepiness or brain fog, HBOT may alleviate those symptoms.

While HBOT can bring about significant health improvements, not everyone is a good candidate. Certain lung diseases and recent rhinovirus infections may worsen with HBOT, which can potentially create an increased risk for complex issues. Before beginning treatment, it is essential that patients consult their physicians, especially if they suffer from lung disease of any kind or have experienced ear injuries or surgeries, as hyperbaric pressure can adversely affect these conditions.

Side Effects Associated with HBOT

During the study, no participants reported any adverse effects during or immediately after the HBOT treatment.

While HBOT is generally a safe procedure, any medical treatment can cause side effects. Patients should speak with their physicians prior to treatment and discuss their medical history. This includes current and past health conditions, medications, etc. Some patients may still experience side effects, such as:

  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Ear pain
  • Headache (from pressure changes)

However, if patients experience side effects, they are only temporary. The duration of treatment differs from patient to patient, and the longer the HBOT session, the more likely the patient is to experience mild side effects.

Additional Read: Essential Factors to Consider When Selecting HBOT Clinic

At NexGen Hyperbaric, LLC, we use proven safety methods to ensure that HBOT is as comfortable as possible for every patient. NexGen Hyperbaric, LLC received accreditation from the Undersea Hyperbaric & Medical Society (UHMS), a nonprofit organization dedicated to upholding the standards for patient treatments and care facilities that specialize in hyperbaric medicine. Our clinic has been through a comprehensive evaluation by UHMS and is deemed to meet the high standards of UHMS in terms of our facility, safety, training, and staff.

Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy for Long COVID at NexGen Hyperbaric, LLC

At NexGen Hyperbaric, LLC, we’ve treated patients using hyperbaric oxygen therapy for over 15 years. Our dedication and focus are on improving the health and wellness of our patients through cutting-edge technology and research, as well as patient-focused care. If you have been suffering from fatigue and brain fog due to long COVID, speak to your doctor about how hyperbaric oxygen therapy for long COVID could help.

Call us today at 888-567-4302 to learn more about hyperbaric oxygen therapy.