Military Plans to Test Hyperbaric Therapy For Traumatic Brain Injury

According to an article in the Washinton Post the U.S. military plans clinical trials next year to see whether breathing pure oxygen in a pressurized chamber might help thousands of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans suffering from traumatic brain injuries.

About 300 service members with mild to moderate traumatic brain injury will undergo hyperbaric oxygen therapy to help determine whether it can help them heal, or at least ease the headaches, mood swings or other symptoms linked to brain injury.

Some will spend a total of 40 hours over 10 weeks breathing pure oxygen in a hyperbaric chamber, where the atmospheric pressure is increased to a level similar to what they would experience about 20 feet under water.

The military is faced with a rising number of traumatic brain injuries because improved combat protection and medical care have allowed more service members to survive explosions and other traumas that would have been fatal in previous wars.

The Defense Department said more than 134,000 service men and women suffered traumatic brain injuries from 2003 through 2009.  IEDs are responsible for most combat casualties in Iraq and in Afghanistan.   The high pressure blast waves generated by an IED travel at 1,600 feet per second, and can be propagated for several hundred yards from the site of the explosion. This initial blast wave is followed by what is called a “secondary wind” – a huge volume of displaced air that returns to the site of the explosion, also under extremely high pressure.

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