Over the years, medical researchers found a number of additional therapeutic uses for the chambers, which force large quantities of oxygen into the body very quickly. For example, hyperbaric therapy (HBOT) can speed the development of blood vessels, thus improving outcomes for certain types of wounds, gangrene, cardiac illnesses, and other conditions. Typically, HBOT is conducted in a hospital setting, in a large non-portable chamber, under high pressure.
In recent years, some doctors theorized that HBOT could improve symptoms of autism by increasing oxygen intake and thus reducing inflammation and hypo-perfusion (lack of oxygen) in the brain. Of course, there is no agreement within the scientific community that inflammation or lack of oxygen cause autism - or are even generally associated with autism.
To investigate the possibility that HBOT could treat symptoms of autism, Dr. Daniel Rossignol has begun a series of studies. Those studies are still in the very earliest stages. The most that can be said is that they offer some support for continuing, larger studies.
Despite the lack of scientific evidence for HBOT as a useful treatment for autism, anecdotal evidence and word-of-mouth have made this an increasingly interesting option to parents of children with autism. "Home" oxygen chambers and expensive courses of HBOT treatment are being offered by various practitioners with anecdotal evidence of positive outcomes.
Because this treatment has not been scientifically verified, it seems premature to get involved. According to Rossignol, there are risks of side effects when using HPOT, including ear pain, reversible myopia (nearsightedness), and seizures. If parents do decide to consider HBOT before more research is completed, however, it makes sense to do so in the context of a formal autism clinic or children's hospital - both to ensure proper methodology and to reduce the risk of side effects.
Rossignol, Daniel. "Hyperbaric oxygen therapy may improve symptoms in autistic children." Med Hypotheses. 2006;67(2):216-28.
Rossignol, Daniel et al. "The effects of hyperbaric oxygen therapy on oxidative stress, inflammation, and symptoms in children with autism: an open-label pilot study." BMC Pediatrics 2007, 7:36