Oxygen and Hyperbaric Oxygen in the Treatment of Mold-Related Illness and Chemical Sensitivity

By Dr. Susan Tanner, MD

One of the most helpful and relatively fast-acting treatments for patients affected by mold and mycotoxins and those suffering from Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS) is the use of oxygen therapy at home, or hyperbaric oxygen therapy in a center providing this service. One might question the benefit of this if a patient’s heart and lungs are all healthy and in good working order, but the reasons and rationale for both forms of oxygen therapy are explained below.

Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy

What is this exactly? In a nutshell, this is the use of 100% oxygen in a pressurized setting, or chamber. This chamber works on the physical principal of Boyle’s Law. “Boyle’s Law” states that at constant temperature, the volume and the pressure of a gas are inversely proportional.  This means a gas will compress proportionately to the amount of pressure exerted on it.  Using these laws, hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) allows more life-sustaining oxygen to be delivered to the tissues and organs than would be possible outside of the pressurized setting. The increase of the partial pressure of oxygen at the cellular level accelerates healing processes and assists in cellular recovery from numerous symptoms. The most common uses of hyperbaric oxygen in hospital settings are to treat the following conditions:

  • Scuba diving decompression incidents (the bends) from staying down too long or from re-surfacing too quickly;
  • Non-healing diabetic ulcers and other non-healing wounds;
  • Brain trauma including strokes;
  • Osteomyelitis (bone infections);
  • Chronic systemic infections, such as Lyme disease in its chronic form;
  • Mold-related brain injury.

HBOT is SAFE.  The side effects are minimal.  Hyperbaric Oxygen is not a cure but has been clearly demonstrated to dramatically increase immune capabilities, assisting patients with problems ranging from chronic wounds to complex disabilities and neurological impairment.

Downsides to Hyperbaric Oxygen Treatment

The first is availability. Obviously, if one is in the hospital recovering from one of the abovementioned issues, then the chamber may be part of the treatment available in that setting. If not, and especially if being used for less medically-recognized syndromes, then accessiability to a hyperbaric chamber requires going to a facility that offers and assists with this therapy. The travel to and from the centers as well as the time involved for treatment can be significant. True high-dose hyperbaric chambers are hard-shell containers, looking much like submersibles. Hyperbaric chambers may be shaped for patients to be able to sit inside, or to lie down on a stretcher that can then be rolled into an elongated tube. Typically, the treatment time is one hour, after which the pressure is gradually reduced as the session ends, before the patient exits the chamber. Frequency of treatments may be once or twice a week initially, and adjusted as to patient response or healing.

There are other hyperbaric chambers which are considered portable. These are soft sided, inflatable, zip up tubes. A patient will get into the tube and lie down for the duration of the treatment. These chambers do not get to the same therapeutic oxygen-delivery level of the hard-shell devices, and the effects are generally much milder.

If a patient has chronic sinusitis and fluid pressure on the middle ear, then tolerance to hyperbaric is not ideal, as the ear cannot equalize pressure, causing discomfort. The other drawback is that patients who are severely claustrophobic may not tolerate enclosed spaces from which they cannot be extracted quickly. Soothing music and even mild sedation can be used to help mitigate this.

While HBOT is an incredibly useful treatment, especially for those with acute infections and those recovering from strokes, for the more chronic illnesses such as mold-related illness and Lyme disease, I have found that the use of high-dose oxygen at home with a mask, without the pressure component, is very helpful, less expensive, and more readily available in general.

Home Oxygen Therapy

This was first described by Dr. William Rea, of the Environmental Health Center in Dallas, Texas. Dr. Rea was a pioneer in the treatment of multiple chemical sensitivity. As a surgeon, he himself became quite ill after years of passive exposure to inhaled anesthetic agents in the operating room. His tireless research into the mechanisms of MCS and treatment modalities of it have given us many tools to treat this confounding illness, and oxygen therapy was one of these treatments. He found that in chemically-injured patients, the amount of oxygen remaining in the venous blood was too high. This indicated that the arterial capillaries were not delivering the oxygen into the tissues as should happen. The result of this caused subtle but continual metabolic breakdown. Individuals could not detoxify as well, repair injured tissues, or maintain normal function at the cellular level for energy. This is where the neurologic system also becomes involved, as there becomes progressive impairment of the autonomic nervous system, which is the body’s control center of all bodily functions that we don’t’ have to think about, such as breathing, heart rate, sweating, blood pressure, hormonal and neurochemical releases. As you can see this impacts every function of the body! As tissue becomes more oxygen deprived, more inflammation develops, and thus continues the vicious cycle.

The use of oxygen at home with a mask at 8 liters per minute for 2 hours a day is quite extraordinary in its impact on the sequence of events described above. While it does not take the place of the requirements for “clean air, clean water, clean food,” it can make a huge difference, and relatively quickly, for chronically ill patients especially those with mold- and mycotoxin-related injury. Additionally, Dr. Don Dennis has found that oxygen may decrease the ability for opportunistic molds to grow in the sinuses, another benefit!

Home Oxygen Therapy to Treat Mold and Chronic Illness

Demonstrating the indication for oxygen therapy can be accomplished by certain blood tests, such as the inflammatory marker, TGF beta1, or by getting a venous blood gas done in a hospital respiratory lab. I have found the latter progressively harder to do, as the insurance and hospital regulations still do not understand the need for this in a patient who is not obviously respiratory compromised. I have come to rely more on the TGF beta 1 blood test as both a marker of need and improvement in these cases.

Oxygen companies, likewise, often do not understand the need for oxygen if not for a lung or heart problem. Many times, I recommend to patients that they purchase their own oxygen generator so that they are not faced with the ongoing struggle to get the treatment that they need. Insurance does not usually cover this treatment, unfortunately, but in the great scheme of things the benefits of it are well worth the cost, which is generally not excessive. (Note: For reference, home oxygen generators can range in price from $400 to about $2,500).

Therapy can be continued for an indefinite period of time, but many patients find that after two months they feel so much better, that treatments can be reduced to just once or twice a week, or as an emergency therapy in the event of inadvertent exposure to mold or chemicals.

Comments? Questions? We love hearing from you! Please write to us below or email us at newsletter@sinusitiswellness.com. We produce these articles to help YOU, our readers. Please let us know what topics you would like for us to cover in the future. Also, please sign up for our weekly newsletter, so that you never miss an article.