This month marked the two-year anniversary of the Covid-19 pandemic. After nearly 80 million cases in the US alone, we have learned a lot about the novel virus and the majority of patients have gone on to recover.
However, millions of people who’ve tested positive for Covid-19 continue to experience ongoing health issues in the form of Long Covid.
Symptoms range from mild to debilitating and there are currently very few treatment options available. Many patients are taking the approach of “waiting it out” or “pushing through” while relying on band-aid solutions to minimize the symptoms. That’s too many people left struggling every day with no end in sight!
Fortunately, promising new research shows that hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) may provide hope and an answer for those living with long Covid.
What We Know About Long Covid
Long Covid, also known as post-Covid syndrome, refers to lingering symptoms after infection of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. The condition can develop in patients whose Covid symptoms ranged from mild to severe. Researchers aren’t sure how common it is yet, but the early estimate is that it develops in nearly 40% of people who contract Covid-19.
Long Covid symptoms include:
- Brain fog
- Anxiety or depression
- Shortness of breath
- Sustained loss of smell and taste
- Joint pain
- Muscle pain
- Hair loss
Scientists haven’t pinpointed exactly what causes the ongoing symptoms, but many believe there are multiple mechanisms at play. Here are a few of the proposed factors.
Inflammation and Immune Dysfunction
A new study published just last month found that immune dysregulation can persist in Covid patients up to eight months after their initial infection. The study noted that long Covid patients had significantly higher levels of six inflammatory markers, compared to the control group.
It is well known that chronic inflammation can cause a host of issues throughout the body and that it impairs overall healing and recovery. It can also cause the immune system to misfire and attack your own tissues, triggering or worsening autoimmune conditions.
In patients with shortness of breath and chronic cough, the cause is likely lung tissue damage caused by the viral infection. The damage perpetuates the problem as the tissue doesn’t receive adequate oxygen to repair itself. Recovery can also be slowed by stress, nutrient deficiencies, toxins, inflammation, and other stressors.
Poor Brain Oxygenation
Because Covid-19 is a vascular condition, it can impact blood flow to the brain, either due to lung damage or swelling of the small blood vessels in the brain. It is believed this is why many long Covid patients experience ongoing brain fog, poor concentration, and difficulty following a conversation and staying on task.
How Can HBOT Help Patients with Long Covid?
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) is the practice of breathing concentrated oxygen in a pressurized chamber. The increased pressure allows significantly higher levels of oxygen to penetrate red blood cells and plasma.
This promotes and speeds up healing by stimulating the growth of new tissue, stem cells, and blood vessels. The increased flow of oxygen also enhances immune function and acts as a powerful anti-inflammatory throughout the body.
HBOT has been specifically found to lower inflammatory markers in the brain, making it an effective tool for chronic brain fog.
It also helps correct dysregulated immune function by speeding apoptosis (programmed cell death) in older and dysfunctional immune cells, while supporting immune function against infections and oxidative stress.
Early research shows a significant improvement in fatigue, cognition, and brain fog symptoms in patients treated with 10 HBOT sessions.
The combined positive effects on immune function, brain oxygenation, and tissue repair are why many clinicians see it as a promising treatment for long Covid patients.
Dr. Osgood’s Personal Experience with Covid and HBOT
Not many people know this, but when I had Covid I was down for the count for about three and a half weeks. At the peak of the infection, my oxygen saturation was in the 80s (the normal range is 95-100). After I was out of the woods from an acute standpoint, I had several lingering symptoms that were at times pretty scary. My resting heart rate was 20 points higher, I had brain fog, swallowing issues, and my ability to exercise was pathetic, I would get out of breath walking across the room!
I started using hyperbaric oxygen therapy routinely along with an anti-inflammatory diet and nutraceuticals and I’m proud to say that my symptoms improved dramatically and I am back to my pre-covid baseline.
How to Access Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy for Long Covid
Until relatively recently, HBOT was only available in a hospital setting. The treatments were highly expensive and usually only available for acute cases, as regulated by the FDA.
Mild HBOT at a Clinic
Fortunately, HBOT is now much more available via mild HBOT. These soft-sided inflatable chambers provide 1.3 ATA (meaning a 30% increase in pressure compared to sea level), which elevates tissue oxygenation by more than 50%. Mild HBOT provides significant medical benefits without the potential hazards and cost of hospital-grade hyperbaric chambers.
At-Home HBOT Rental
If you are not located near a facility offering mild HBOT or would like the convenience of at-home treatment, you can rent a chamber on a short-term basis. Pricing varies based on the model and duration of the rental, but you can apply the rental cost toward the purchase of the chamber if you choose to keep it long-term for health optimization and recovery.
At-home rental can be a great option for patients with other complicating factors or chronic health conditions, such as autoimmunity, neurological disorders, and chronic Lyme, which are all shown to benefit from HBOT. For more details, check out this page and contact our office.
The daily impact of poor brain function and debilitating fatigue can be devastating. If you know anyone suffering from long Covid, please share this article to let them know there is hope and alternative solutions are available!
About the Author: Dr. Seth Osgood is a Doctor of Nursing Practice, Board Certified Family Nurse Practitioner and Institute of Functional Medicine (IFM) Certified Practitioner. Dr. Osgood received his post-graduate training in Functional Medicine through the IFM and from working with Dr. Amy Myers. He has helped people from around the world improve their health utilizing a Functional Medicine approach.