Lyme disease is generally an acute bacterial infection caused by the bacteria Borrelia burgdoferi, causing short term symptoms such an a circular or target shaped rash, flu like symptoms, lethargy and muscle and joint pain. Approximately 30,000 cases are reported each year, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Typically, the symptoms are short lived, however, If left untreated, it can easily turn into a chronic condition called late disseminated Lyme.
Although early cases of Lyme disease can be cured with antibiotics, late stage Lyme can lead to far more complications and are not so easily treated with antibiotics, with many sufferers reporting symptoms being only temporarily relieved by antibiotics at this stage. It is at this stage where Hyperbaric oxygen therapy can be of use in treatment for Lyme. How HBOT for Lyme disease works is that in Hyperbaric oxygen therapy, the patient is placed into a hyperbaric chamber and within this chamber, they are given 100% oxygen to breathe. The air outside is said to be approximately 21% oxygen, with the majority of the atmosphere being made of nitrogen which passes harmlessly in and out of our lungs.
The theory behind how Hyperbaric oxygen therapy assists with Lyme disease is that Borrelia burgdoferi is an anaerobic organism, which means it functions best in low oxygen environments and cannot function in higher oxygen. When a patient is exposed to 100% oxygen, it therefore changes the internal environment to one in which the bacterium cannot survive, which is the theory to how HBOT can be used to treat Lyme disease.
This has been backed up by clinical trials performed at Texas A&M University, in which over 90 patients with a diagnosis of Lyme disease were treated with 100% pure oxygen for an hour at a time, up a duration of three months. That led to approximately 1995 hyperbaric treatments between all the patients. Eighty-four percent of the patients in the study showed quite significant improvements – some even reporting the elimination of their symptoms.
A few important things to note is that whilst Hyperbaric oxygen therapy for lyme shows great promise in not just treating Lyme, but in against all manner of anaerobic organisms, the FDA has yet to approve it as an official treatment, awaiting further studies. Another is that whilst HBOT has been proven in some studies to assist with anaerobics, this means that people receiving the treatment have reported Jarisch-Herxheimer responses to the treatment – which is when after a large amount of bacteria are killed, they release endotoxins into the body which can result in the body having a negative reaction to them. That means that whilst Hyperbaric oxygen therapy can assist in those suffering Lyme disease, it may induce some side effects in those who use it. In the study at Texas A&M University, all the patients except one suffered these side effects during the course of the treatment and the most significant improvements in quality of life and overall health happen after the treatments were completed.