Since the first hyperbaric chambers were built more than two centuries ago, the therapeutic use of hyperbaric oxygen (HBO) therapy has gradually expanded to several diseases and conditions.
The question about the efficacy of HBO in managing autism is part of the broader mandate given to AETMIS by the Minister of Health and Social Services, i.e., to provide an update of a previous report outlining the indications for which the efficacy of HBO is supported by scientific data. In his request, the Minister specifically asked AETMIS to pay special attention to cerebral palsy (report published in January 2007) and autism.
Despite a thorough literature search in the scientific databases and textbooks and on websites dealing with autism or HBO, it must be concluded that there is a lack of evidence, for apart from two descriptions of anecdotal cases, the only results available are from three case series studies, two of which are described very briefly, and from a randomized, controlled trial. These studies seem to indicate a reduction in autism symptoms, but their validity cannot be demonstrated because of the small patient samples and the methodological weaknesses.
In light of its assessment, AETMIS concludes that there is insufficient evidence to build a strong case for the efficacy of hyperbaric oxygen therapy in the management of autistic disorders. In these circumstances, a literature watch should be conducted to evaluate the results of the current and future studies. In short, for the management of autism, hyperbaric oxygen therapy should, for now, be considered an experimental treatment modality. Consequently, this treatment should be limited to formal research projects.