Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy: a potential treatment for those with long COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic swept the globe over the last 3 years. Despite shutdowns and preventative measures, millions were infected. With vaccine rollouts and less severe mutations, we can finally say we are past the peak and out of a full blown pandemic.

Unfortunately, for many people, even with the decline in coronavirus, life hasn’t gone back to normal. For a small but significant number of people, a covid infection is not just a week or two of being sick – but instead a long term battle.

Long COVID, or Post-COVID Conditions (PCC) as the CDC labels it, is exactly what it sounds like. Despite fighting off the initial infection, patients with long COVID experience long term symptoms and ongoing health issues.

Scientists still have a lot to learn about the novel coronavirus and studies on long COVID are unfortunately still small, rare, and oftentimes inconclusive. There is truly a lot we don’t know about the virus and the long term effects of infection.

For people currently suffering with Long Covid, waiting for more studies and research before they can get relief can seem overwhelmingly demoralizing. Thankfully, research studies are finally catching up and offering options and treatments backed by science.

One of these treatments showing promise for long COVID symptoms is hyperbaric oxygen therapy or HBOT.

Hyperbaric therapy has a long history of treating many conditions throughout the body. The therapy itself is easy to understand. During a HBOT session, patients are put into a pressurized environment and given pure 100% oxygen. The combination of the pressure and the pure oxygen allows the body to absorb much more oxygen into the bloodstream. This extra oxygen can help trigger many systems in the body to promote healing.

Based on previous hyperbaric oxygen therapy studies, scientists quickly realized the treatment may also help with long COVID symptoms. The research currently being conducted indicates that assumption was correct.

If you, or a loved one, are experiencing long COVID symptoms or have been diagnosed by your doctor with the condition, HBOT might be able to help. At our newly open hyperbaric facility in Brooklyn NY – Oxygen Clinic NY – we are already seeing patients experiencing significant improvements.

To give you a better idea of why and how hyperbaric oxygen therapy might help, let’s break down the condition of Long COVID and HBOT treatment in more detail.

What is Long COVID?

Long COVID – also known as Post-COVID conditions, long-haul COVID, post-acute COVID-19, post-acute sequelae of SARS CoV-2 infection (PASC), and chronic COVID – is a condition defined by the lingering symptoms and effects of COVID infection.

These ongoing symptoms and health problems can last weeks, months, or even longer. Symptoms range from fatigue to stomach issues to heart palpitations. Studies on long COVID have shown that symptoms can be neurological, digestive, respiratory, heart related, or affecting other systems in the body.

It’s hard to determine how many people are affected by long COVID due to the wide range of symptoms and the difficulty in diagnosing the condition. Currently, CDC statistics suggest –

  • 13.3% of people infected with COVID experience symptoms for one month or longer after infection
  • 2.5% of people infected with COVID experience long COVID symptoms for 3 months or longer
  • 30% of patients hospitalized for COVID experience long COVID symptoms lasting 6 or more months

These rates are for the general population. Additional research has shown certain demographics suffer long COVID at much higher rates. These groups include people with underlying health conditions prior to COVID-19, those who did not receive a vaccine, and people who experienced multisystem inflammatory syndrome (MIS) along with their COVID infection.

Understanding What Causes Long COVID

Before the COVID-19 pandemic swept the globe, the coronavirus was an understudied, novel virus. Scientists and researchers were thrown into a frenzy with the pandemic and the race to fully understand the virus began.

While today we have a much better understanding of COVID, there are still many mysteries and unsolved questions when it comes to how the virus impacts the human body. Because of this uncertainty, there is also not much known about how to adequately treat or heal long COVID. Thankfully, there are some theories that can help doctors and scientists predict which treatments might help.

Blood Clots

One of the three main theories for what causes Long Covid is minuscule clots and damage to tiny blood vessels, especially in the lungs.

Research out of Italy has specifically found that long COVID sufferers sometimes have low blood flow in the lungs. This can cause low oxygen in the blood which can lead to many of the common long COVID symptoms.

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy has been used to treat low oxygen levels and blood vessel damage long before the coronavirus pandemic. HBOT has been shown in studies to decrease clot adhesiveness inside blood vessels as well as increase circulation and oxygenation of the blood. The extra oxygen can also trigger collagen growth and help repair blood vessel damage directly.

Lingering Virus

Another theory of why COVID symptoms persist in some patients is that the virus is not actually fully expelled from the body. Despite the immune system’s best efforts, many patients with Long COVID have been found to still harbor small amounts of the virus in various organs and tissues throughout the body.

The theory is that this lingering virus load continues to affect the body by triggering the immune system. COVID RNA virus has been found in the brain, muscles, gut, and lungs of patients who suffered ongoing coronavirus symptoms.

Treating long COVID with Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy shows promise as the treatment has already been proven to have an antiviral effect with other more studied viruses, including HIV. Many doctors have already been recommending HBOT based on this well-established research.

Immune Abnormalities

The third leading theory for long COVID in many ways combines the issues in the first two theories. Studies of long COVID sufferers have found many have overactive immune systems.

The idea is that the body revs up the immune system to fight off Coronavirus but then never fully shuts down the system once the infection is gone. This might be due to lingering viral load (the second theory) and could also explain the ongoing clots and inflammation seen in the blood vessels of the lungs (theory one).

When the immune system continues to be in a state of activation, despite no active threat, chronic inflammation is a likely result. Inflammation could easily be the cause of most, if not all long COVID symptoms – including neurological issues due to inflammation in the brain.

Treating long COVID inflammation with HBOT is an idea with a well established library of research to support. Multiple studies on Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy have shown that the therapy decreases inflammatory markers such as the sedimentation rate (ESR) and c-reactive protein (CRP).

Treating Long Covid With HBOT

Based on the leading theories of what causes COVID, scientists started to notice a link to existing research on how Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy is used to treat similar health issues.

Early on in the pandemic, many doctors began suggesting HBOT to their patients suffering with long COVID. Initial success led to additional research and studies. Today, there are dozens of research papers and studies coming out proving what those doctors saw in their own clinics. Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy could be a leading treatment for long COVID.

One study, by the Royal College of Physicians, studied patients with long COVID receiving HBOT. Their conclusion was that there were “potential benefits of HBOT, with statistically significant results following 10 sessions.”

Another study, by Shai Efrati, a researcher at the Sagol Center for Hyperbaric Medicine in Tel Aviv found “substantial improvements in damaged brain tissue and functional cognition for the participants” with many reporting they “felt back to normal” after HBOT treatment.

Our Hyperbaric Oxygen Treatment Center in Brooklyn New York

As you can see, there is a good deal of direct and indirect research showing HBOT as a highly effective potential treatment for long COVID-19.

Oxygen Clinic in Brooklyn is the HBOT clinic, recommended by doctors throughout the NYC area. Using state-of-the-art technology, our hyperbaric oxygen therapy is providing relief to long COVID patients every week. If you’d like to set up an appointment or learn more, please feel free to reach out to our team via phone, email, or by stopping by the clinic.

Oxygen Clinic
1659 Ralph Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11236

Scientific Sources:  https://go.nature.com/3WJdb9G