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Efficacy of Hyperbaric Oxygen Chambers in the Treatment of Lyme Disease

Formation of Lyme Disease

Lyme disease is a regional, systemic, chronic spirochete disease transmitted by ticks. It is characterized by chronic migratory erythema on the skin in the early stages and later develops into neurological, cardiac, or joint lesions. It usually occurs in summer and early autumn and can affect individuals of any age, with males slightly more affected than females.

Lyme disease is caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi, which is transmitted to humans by infected deer ticks. In the early stages of the disease, symptoms such as a bull-eye rash, fever, flu-like symptoms, migraines, fatigue, joint and muscle pains are commonly reported. However, a significant number of cases are misdiagnosed and progress into a more severe illness known as late disseminated Lyme disease.

Early treatment with antibiotics can effectively cure Lyme disease; however, delayed treatment can result in long-term complications. In this situation, hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) has been shown to be beneficial in treating Lyme disease.

HBOT can be used to treat Lyme disease, specifically as an effective treatment for neurological Lyme. A study conducted in 1998 by William Fife at Texas A&M University discovered that exposing spirochetes to oxygen weakens them and can cause them to die off.

Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy, or HBOT, provides a unique treatment for Lyme disease that traditional therapies cannot. As the bacteria that cause Lyme disease are anaerobic, they cannot survive in oxygen-rich environments. While these bacteria may develop resistance to traditional antibiotics, they cannot thrive in high oxygen levels. Therefore, it is logical that HBOT and oxygen can help treat Lyme disease.

HBOT treatments deliver high concentrations of oxygen under pressurized conditions. The oxygen enters the body and effectively kills the disease-causing bacteria. Many physicians now combine HBOT treatments with antibiotics to achieve a more effective cure for the patient.

Hyperbaric oxygen not only kills the bacteria associated with Lyme disease but also helps alleviate symptoms and conditions that persist even after test results show no more infection. In cases of Post Treatment Lyme Disease Syndrome (PTLDS), HBOT often provides relief when other treatments fail. Symptoms such as joint and muscle pain, chronic inflammation, cognitive complications, and nerve damage often improve during HBOT treatment.

-Removal of Bacteria and Toxins – The increased levels of oxygen in the blood delivered from HBOT kills off bacteria and viruses, while also removing heavy metals and toxins that are often present with Lyme disease.

-Production of Stem Cells – Increased levels of oxygen in the blood help stimulate the production of additional stem cells in the body. These stem cells seek out and repair damaged tissue, alleviating joint and muscle pain associated with chronic Lyme disease.

-New Blood Vessels and Better Blood Flow – HBOT treatments work to greatly reduce inflammation in the body by helping to grow and establish new blood vessels, allowing oxygen-rich blood to reach inflamed tissues.

-Stimulates the Production of White Blood Cells – Higher oxygen levels promote the production of white blood cells, boost the body's immune system, and aid in the healing process.

-Repairs Brain Function – The pressurized levels of oxygen delivered by HBOT stimulate brain function and help restore cognitive abilities, resulting in improved memory and functional thinking for most patients.

-Damaged Organs Recover – In chronic cases where organs such as the heart, liver, and eyes are affected, the increased oxygen contributes to healing, and in most cases, the organs return to normal function.

Clinical Trials

Trial 1

In a clinical trial led by Dr. William Fife at Texas A&M University, 91 patients diagnosed with Lyme disease received hyperbaric oxygen therapy. Over the course of the trial, the 91 patients completed a total of 1,995 hyperbaric oxygen treatments. The patients were exposed to 100% pure oxygen for 60 minutes during various sessions, lasting up to 3 months.

Each patient was evaluated using a Lyme disease questionnaire developed by Lyme specialists. The study showed that 84% of the patients experienced significant improvement or elimination of symptoms.

While HBOT was effective in treating Lyme disease, all but one of the patients experienced severe Jarisch-Herxheimer reactions, which usually started within the first five days of treatment. In most cases, the reaction persisted throughout the duration of hyperbaric oxygen treatments. Most subjects began to show significant improvements after completing HBOT treatments.

Trial 2

HBOT for Lyme Disease – Can it improve symptoms?

Before getting started, it’s important to note that HBOT is not an FDA-approved therapy for the treatment of Lyme disease. This is due to a lack of studies and evidence for or against its utility.

That being said, a number of promising clinical studies and case reports have shown that  HBOT is effective in treating Lyme disease throughout the USA.

In a clinical trial conducted at Texas A&M University, 91 Lyme disease patients were given HBOT treatment (a total of 1,995 HBOT therapy sessions across all patients). The HBOT protocol included a 60-minute session for up to 3 months.

After the 3-month period, each patient was evaluated using a Lyme disease questionnaire developed by Lyme disease specialists. Surprisingly, 84% of the patients displayed either significant improvement in symptoms due to Lyme disease, or a complete elimination of their symptoms, indicating HBOT was markedly efficacious. The authors attributed the reduction in symptoms to the higher pressurized atmosphere of the portable hyperbaric chamber, which produces oxygen levels that kill off the bacterium responsible for the disease3.

Essentially, the study suggests HBOT removes bacteria and toxins from the body as the elevated oxygen in the blood delivered via HBOT kills bacteria/viruses. The increased blood oxygen may also aid in the removal of heavy metals and toxins which are often present in Lyme disease as well.

A few interesting case reports have replicated the findings by Texas A&M regarding HBOT for the treatment of Lyme disease as well.

In 2004, a healthy man from Taipei City was diagnosed with Lyme disease after experiencing symptoms for over a year, including fever, fatigue, muscle and joint pain, and EM lesions. His symptoms persisted until 2007 when he was finally given an antibiotic cocktail over 4 years.

By 2011, the patient had not significantly improved and, rather than going back to an infection clinic for diagnosis and drug treatment, he went to a hospital for HBOT therapy instead.

The patient was characterized/diagnosed with CLD prior to HBOT treatment.

The doctors recommended 30 sessions of 2.5 ATA (pressure) for a duration of 90 minutes initially. Astoundingly, after the first 10 HBOT sessions, the patient reported a complete disappearance of some of his symptoms, including a loss of thinking ability and inability to sleep.

In the second 10 HBOT sessions, the patient reported more improvements as well. He no longer experienced numbness of his extremities, and the periorbital twitch he had been experiencing since the infection disappeared as well.

The third and final 10 sessions resulted in all his musculoskeletal system symptoms vanishing, suggesting that HBOT may be an effective treatment for CLD4.

Like the previous study conducted by Texas A&M, the authors reported the improvements likely were due to the increased blood oxygen levels to eliminate bacteria.

However, some other ways HBOT works to treat Lyme disease were discussed as well, such as:

Stem cell production – Increased blood oxygen levels can help stimulate stem cell production throughout the body, and these stem cells can improve repair and recovery processes when tissues are damaged. This may help to alleviate arthritis or muscle/joint pains commonly associated with Lyme disease.

Angiogenesis (New blood vessel formation) – HBOT treatment can reduce inflammation via increasing blood flow, which enables oxygen-rich blood to reach inflamed tissue.

White blood cell production – Increased oxygen promotes white blood cell production, enhancing the body’s innate immune system.

Repair brain functionality – The high pressure experienced by HBOT stimulates brain function and helps restore cognition

Concluding Remarks

Altogether, Lyme disease, especially in the later stages if left untreated, can be nasty in numerous ways. And even worse, treatments for chronic Lyme disease symptoms are somewhat limited.

HBOT is one therapy that may see increased use for these symptoms in the future. Its ability to improve oxygenated blood and stimulate angiogenesis, tissue recovery and cognition are just some of the ways in which it can prevent or treat Lyme disease-associated symptoms. However, as discussed throughout this article, the evidence for its use for Lyme disease is vastly limited and somewhat controversial.

Lyme disease is a regionally specific illness transmitted through tick bites, which can damage the human nervous system. Neurological damage from Lyme disease commonly includes conditions such as meningitis, encephalitis, cranial neuritis, as well as motor and sensory neuropathy. Traditionally, doctors prescribe antibiotics in the early stages of the disease. However, bacteria responsible for Lyme disease can develop antibiotic resistance and may not respond consistently to treatment. Since the bacteria causing Lyme disease are often anaerobic, the environment provided by a hyperbaric oxygen chamber can effectively kill these anaerobic bacteria, alleviating the pain associated with Lyme disease. After receiving treatment in a hyperbaric oxygen chamber, most people experience significant recovery, and the recurrence of Lyme disease is rare.

Almost everyone experiences the Jarisch-Herxheimer reaction after exiting the hyperbaric oxygen chamber for home. This reaction is common because the death of anaerobic cells increases inflammation within the body, causing a temporary worsening of symptoms before improvement occurs.

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