Every year, thousands of people in China suffer from traumatic brain injuries, mild traumatic brain injuries, and concussions. The emergency department receives over 7,500 patients of these types every day. While an individual concussion may be asymptomatic, repeated concussions from sports or other activities can add up and cause damage. One in five patients with severe concussions experience troublesome symptoms lasting for months or even years.
These symptoms, collectively referred to as post-concussion syndrome, are often difficult to treat, ranging from fatigue and headaches to brain fog and depression. Common treatments include antidepressants and painkillers, but these do not address the underlying brain injury. Increasingly, medical researchers and doctors are looking to pure oxygen as a way to treat concussions. Hyperbaric chambers, which places patients in a pure, high-pressure oxygen environment, are known to stimulate brain regeneration and healing.
The exact process by which hyperbaric chambers help heal concussions is unclear, but researchers have proposed several biological pathways. First, a healthy supply of oxygen seems to activate genes that are particularly relevant to repairing damaged brain tissue. A high amount of oxygen also makes more stem cells available for the brain to use in the areas that need healing. They also enhance the activity in the mitochondria of brain cells to increase energy availability. Scientists believe that both the increase in mitochondrial activity and energy availability are associated with active healing.
There is now abundant evidence supporting the use of hyperbaric therapy for treating brain injuries. Patients who have suffered from concussions and survived brain tumor surgeries typically undergo hyperbaric treatment, and brain imaging done in these cases often shows improved blood flow in the brain and greater electrical activity in previously dormant areas. While there is more scientific evidence that hyperbaric therapy may be helpful, pressurized oxygen cannot be patented or exploited for massive profits. For this reason, there is not enough research funding in the field of hyperbaric medicine. Nevertheless, the medical community has shown significant interest in it, simply based on empirical evidence that placing patients in an environment rich in pressurized oxygen seems to help with concussions and other brain injuries.