Anyone wishing to access oxygen treatment should be prepared to commit to an initial intensive course of treatment, usually one treatment per day, five days a week, for three weeks. If this is not possible (either due to personal circumstances or centre capacity), the closer together the first 15-20 sessions can be attended, the greater the potential effectiveness of the treatment. Centres will always try to work with users to implement a workable schedule but, given the nature of our centres and the fact that many operators are volunteers, this may not always be possible.
What is Oxygen Treatment?
The oxygen in the air we breathe is constantly treating the day to day damage we sustain - repairing and renewing our cells. When tissues are damaged the capillaries they contain are also damaged. This reduces the flow of blood that transports oxygen, which may limit or even prevent recovery.
Being a gas, the concentration of oxygen in blood is actually determined by the air pressure surrounding us. To significantly increase the oxygen concentration in blood to improve healing a higher dose is needed - 100% oxygen delivered by a mask and the use of a sealed room, known as a “barochamber” to allow an increase in pressure.
How does it help people with MS?
The disease that results in the scarring – the sclerosis – in multiple sclerosis (MS) is associated with damage to blood vessels in the nervous system. This is not blockage but leakage which leads to inflammation and hypoxia - which simply means lack of oxygen. A high level of oxygen reduces the hypoxia and the latest research has shown that it down regulates the genes that programme inflammation.1 In other words oxygen induces remission. Healing is impossible without sufficient oxygen being present.2
Does everyone benefit?
The sclerosis, that is scarring is healing just as a scar heals a cut in the skin. The objective of oxygen treatment is to help tissues heal and be able to function before the damage leads to scarring. Damage in MS patients occurs over time so the latest areas affected will be the most likely to recover. Trials have shown that patients may experience reduced levels of fatigue, improvements in balance and walking and also bladder function.3,4
Is it safe?
Being in a pressure chamber is actually safer than being outside, e.g. it is not possible to be hit by a bus, nor will patients have either a heart attack or a stroke breathing a high level of oxygen. With over 3 million sessions completed without a serious incident MS Therapy Centres were deregulated by an Act of Parliament in 2008. Minor problems – ear and sinus discomfort similar to that encountered in flying may occur, but, in contrast to aircraft, they can be dealt with by adjusting the pressure.
Oxygen treatment sessions at MS Therapy Centres are simple, non-invasive and painless, and once they have become accustomed to the procedure most users find the sessions pleasurable and relaxing. Each session lasts around 90 minutes (you should allow for 2 hours at the centre, particularly for your first few sessions) and consists of three phases.
Most centres have 'multi-place' barochambers (chambers that can accommodate more than one person, usually up to 6-8 people at a time). Once everyone is inside, the operator will close the door and begin pressurisation. This is where the air pressure increases slowly - users may experience slight ear discomfort similar to that experienced when flying in a commercial aircraft. The rate of pressurisation can be controlled to ensure all chamber users are comfortable.
The treatment begins when the pressure reaches the prescribed level. This is between 1.25 atmospheres absolute (ATA) and 2.0 ATA, depending on the type of condition. Users may then rest, read, listen to music or watch television. A general rule is that courtesy should be shown to other chamber users (headphones used, discussions kept to a minimum etc.).
The operator advises users when the treatment is complete and reduces the pressure slowly, until it is the same as the ambient atmosphere. At this point, the barochamber door can be opened and the session ends.
While not all centres are able to offer oxygen treatment for non-MS conditions, as awareness of the treatment grows more people with other conditions are contacting our centres. In particular, given that oxygen treatment has be seen to reduce fatigue levels, we are seeing many people with neurological conditions such as Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS), as well as people who have suffered strokes.
Increasing awareness about and demand for oxygen treatment means that many centres' barochambers are operating at near full capacity. However, some centres are able to offer sessions to people with non-neurological conditions. Particular success has been seen with problem wounds, such as diabetic ulcers.
Some centres offer oxygen treatment for childhood illnesses such as autism and cerebral palsy. A centre's ability to provide treatments to children is dependent on barochamber capacity (children should be accompanied by a parent or guardian therefore a minimum of two spaces is required) as well as the centre's own constitution.
As is the case with MS, no two cases are the same so the treatment will not work in all cases, however anecdotal feedback from centre users has shown improvements in a number of cases.
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