By now, most of us have read about the long-term effects that COVID-19 is having on some of the population. This is being called “Long COVID.”
The long-term effects can almost all be categorized under the umbrella term “dysautonomia,” or the dysfunction of the autonomic nervous system. As functional neurologists, we have known for a long time that “long hauler” symptoms can be a result of a variety of viruses, pregnancy, surgeries, concussions and more.
One way that the doctors at CFNC help patients with dysautonomia and Long COVID is through neurological rehabilitation and mild hyperbaric oxygen therapy.
What is mild hyperbaric oxygen therapy?
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is a medical treatment that involves ambient air being put under more pressure than the atmospheric pressure. This requires an individual to go into a hyperbaric oxygen chamber. While in the chamber, oxygen will become pressurized. This allows oxygen to be transported more efficiently through the blood stream, which then increases the amount of oxygen that reaches tissue.
How does it work?
Think of breathing like an exchange of pressures. When we are ready to inhale a breath, our lungs have a lower pressure of oxygen than the atmosphere. Because of this pressure difference, air follows the path of least resistance – meaning oxygen floods into our lungs. This creates a pressure difference of the amount of oxygen in the lungs compared to the bloodstream. The amount of oxygen will be higher in the lungs than in our blood stream. This causes oxygen to bind to iron in our blood stream and be transported around our body. Once the blood reaches the tissues, there is a pressure difference again. There will be more oxygen in the blood than the tissues and oxygen will then diffuse into our tissues. The hyperbaric oxygen chamber makes this physiological process more efficient and provides more oxygen to bind to iron in our blood and be transported.
What does the chamber look like?
At CFNC, we have a chamber in the office that is 7 feet long and 34 inches in diameter. There is a mattress inside the chamber. There is enough room for someone to sit up and work on a laptop or read while in there. It is very spacious inside. We give you a portable fan, a pillow and walkie talkie before you go into the chamber. The walkie talkie allows you to be in contact with our staff the entire time you are in the chamber.
One of our staff members will teach you how to get into the chamber, what to expect when we are increasing pressure, and how to clear your ears properly while increasing in pressure. You can bring your phone, headphones, laptop/tablet with you while you’re in the chamber. You can even take a phone call while you’re in it! Overall, our patients enjoy their sessions in the chamber and find it very relaxing!
What does this mean for patients who have Long Covid symptoms?
The long-term effects of COVID-19 can be classified under the umbrella term dysautonomia, which means that the autonomic nervous system is not functioning correctly. The autonomic nervous system helps to control many things such as heart rate, blood pressure, hormone regulation, digestion, immune response and more. One of the biggest things it regulates in our bodies is our circulation.
Individuals who suffer from autonomic dysfunction tend to have more dominance of their sympathetic nervous system. When our sympathetic nervous system is activated it causes our peripheral vasculature to constrict. Over time and with chronic activation, this results in a decrease in the amount of blood circulating in the body. Our brain and body need blood to transport oxygen and glucose around our system to fuel our cells. At CFNC, we may recommend mild hyperbaric oxygen therapy to help with this.
Being in a pressurized chamber not only helps to distribute oxygen around our bodies more efficiently, it also helps to increase angiogenesis and increase mitochondrial density. Which means that it helps to form new blood vessels and boost mitochondrial density. This equals more opportunity for oxygen and fuel to be transported around the body. This is very important for healing and driving neuroplastic changes in the brain for patients, and especially patients with Long COVID and dysautonomia.
If you would like some more information about the benefits of hyperbaric oxygen therapy, feel free to check out our other HBOT blog post or fill out a complimentary consultation form to speak with one of our doctors about why you may be a good candidate for hyperbaric oxygen therapy.