How Can HBOT Help Treat Lyme Disease?

Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy, or HBOT, offers a unique treatment to Lyme disease that traditional therapies do not offer. As with most bacteria, the ones that cause Lyme disease are anaerobic. This means they are unable to survive in oxygen-rich environments. So, while the bacteria may develop resistance to traditional antibiotics, they cannot thrive in high levels of oxygen. Therefore, it only makes sense that HBOT and oxygen help.

HBOT treatments deliver high concentrations of oxygen under pressurized environments. The oxygen enters the body and effectively kills the disease-causing bacteria. While traditional therapy begins with antibiotics, many physicians are adding HBOT treatments at the same time, allowing the two treatments to work together to effectively cure the patient.

But hyperbaric oxygen doesn’t just kill off the bacteria associated with Lyme disease. The high concentrations of oxygen help to treat symptoms and conditions that, for many, remain constant after test results show no more infection. In cases of PTLDS, HBOT often provides relief when nothing else does. Conditions such as joint and muscle pain, chronic inflammation, cognitive complications, and nerve damage often return to normal during the treatment.

How HBOT Works in the Body

A tick being removed from a patient’s hand
  • Removal of Bacteria and Toxins – The increased levels of oxygen in the blood delivered from HBOT kills off bacteria and viruses, while also removing heavy metals and toxins often present with Lyme disease.
  • Production of Stem Cells – Increased levels of oxygen in the blood help stimulate the production of additional stem cells in the body. These stem cells seek out and repair damaged tissue. This helps alleviate joint and muscle pain associated with chronic Lyme disease.
  • New Blood Vessels and Better Blood Flow – HBOT treatments work to greatly reduce the levels of inflammation in the body by helping to grow and establish new blood vessels to allow oxygen-rich blood to reach inflamed tissues.
  • Stimulates the Production of White Blood Cells – Higher oxygen levels promote the production of white blood cells and give the body’s immune system a boost. This, essentially, promotes the body’s healing properties and the body begins recovery.
  • Repairs Brain Function – The pressurized levels of oxygen HBOT delivers to the body stimulate brain function and help restore cognitive abilities, with most patients recovering most, if not all, memory and functional thinking.
  • Damaged Organs Recover – In chronic cases where organs such as the heart, liver, and eyes are affected, the increased oxygen contributes to healing and, in most cases, the organs return to normal function.

What are Jarishc-Herxheimer Reactions?

While HBOT treatment effectively treats Lyme disease, it is very common for those receiving treatment to experience Jarisch-Herxheimer reactions (This also occurs in patients receiving high dose antibiotic therapy). As the oxygen kills off all the Borrelia bacteria in the body, the large die-off fills the body with toxins. Once the body eliminates them, patients can experience grogginess, headaches, and a low-grade fever. Because the die-off increases inflammation in the body, patients may experience a worsening of their disease symptoms before they get better. Increased muscle and joint pain, cognitive impairment and headaches can increase, but as the body removes the die-off, patients report symptom improvement.

Studies on Lyme Disease, Hyperbaric Oxygen, and HBOT Treatment

As of today, HBOT does not have FDA approval for the treatment of Lyme disease and doctors use it as an off-label course of treatment. While it may not yet have FDA approval, there are numerous studies that have shown the effectiveness of HBOT in the treatment of Lyme disease.

Lyme disease diagnosis

A paper published in 1998 by W.P. Fife, Ph.D. and R.A. Neubauer, MD discussed the use of HBOT and hyperbaric oxygen with Lyme disease. They discovered that fibroblasts (cells found in connective tissue) often protect the Borrelia bacteria from antibiotics, making traditional treatment options ineffective. Because HBOT delivers high levels of oxygen under elevated pressure, the oxygen penetrates deep into the tissue and provide an oxygen-rich environment where the bacteria are unable to survive. The study looked at 91 patients and treated them with HBOT while they maintained antibiotic therapy. At the end of the study, 84.8 percent showed significant improvement in symptoms as well as positive diagnostic changes in SPECT scans (a nuclear imaging test that produces 3-D imaging of brain function).

Hyperbaric Oxygen Helps After Years Of Failed Treatments

A 2104 paper looked at a case report of a 31-year-old man that had undergone years of traditional antibiotic treatments. These courses of treatment produced minor symptom reduction while on the antibiotics, but symptoms would return. After years of unsuccessful treatments with antibiotics, the patient received 30 sessions of HBOT at 2.5 ATA, with each session lasting 1.5 hours. Following the first 10 sessions, the patient’s loss of thinking ability and sleep disturbances disappeared. After 20 treatments, numbness in the extremities and periorbital twitching disappeared. With the full 30 treatments, joint pain and other musculoskeletal symptoms disappeared.

Can HBOT Help You with Your Lyme Disease?

Lyme disease word cloud

As the information and studies show, hyperbaric oxygen and HBOT provide an effective alternative or adjunctive therapy for your Lyme disease. Dr. Spiegel is happy to meet with you in an initial consultation, go over your symptoms, as well as current and past treatments and how HBOT can help you. Contact our office today at 727.787.7077 to set up an initial consultation. You may also click HERE to fill out our request form.

History of Lyme Disease

Borrelia burgdorferi

Dr. Allen Steere first identified Lyme disease in the early 1970s. He connected the disease to a bite from the black-legged, or deer, tick. He named it Lyme disease after Old Lyme, Connecticut, where doctors diagnosed the first victims. It wasn’t until 1982, however, that someone identified the actual cause. Swiss-born entomologist Willy Burgdorfer discovered the bacterium (Borrelia burgdorferi) responsible for the disease and named it after himself.

Borrelia burgdorferi is the main cause of Lyme disease in the United States. However, in 2013, scientists at the Mayo clinic discovered a second bacterial species, Borrelia mayonii, responsible for Lyme disease in Minnesota, Wisconsin and North Dakota. In Europe and Asia, two more species of bacteria can cause Lyme disease: Borrelia afzelii and Borrelia garinii. All four species of bacteria spread through the black-legged tick.

Borrelia Bacterium and The Black-legged Tick

A tick feeding on human

The spread of Lyme disease occurs when the Borrelia burgdorferi (or one of the other three bacteria) transfers from a tick bite to a human. In the northeastern, mid-Atlantic and north-central United States, this comes from the black-legged, or deer, tick (Ixodes scapularis). On the Pacific Coast, it is spread by the western black-legged tick (Ixodes pacificus). Most cases of infection are transmitted through the bites of immature ticks, or those in the nymph stage. These ticks are typically tiny, measuring less than 2mm, and are very difficult to see.

Transmission and Prevention of Lyme Disease

In the United States, most cases of Lyme disease occur in the upper mid-western states, upper north-eastern states and the northwestern states on the West Coast. Ticks live in shady, wooded areas or heavily grassy areas and remain close to the ground. They can cling to tall grass, brush, and shrubs. The ticks responsible for the transmission of Lyme disease are typically in the nymph stage and are very small.

While they can bite and attach anywhere on a human, they are more likely to attach in hidden or hairy areas, such as the armpit, groin, and scalp. While it is possible, the transmission of Borrelia burgdorferi does not occur unless the tick has attached and been feeding for more than 36 hours. When hiking or camping, it is essential to check for ticks on a regular basis. And also remove them as soon as possible. The longer a tick remains attached, the greater your risk is of developing Lyme disease.

Signs and Symptoms of Lyme Disease

Lyme disease is broken down into three stages that are rated by the spread of the bacteria.

Stages of Lyme Disease

A rash from tick bite
  • Stage One (Localized Lyme Disease) – This is the early stage of the disease, when the bacterium is focused in a localized area, typically the site of the tick bite.
  • Stage Two (Early Disseminated Lyme Disease) – In this stage bacteria are beginning to spread throughout the body. Patients may begin experiencing additional symptoms.
  • Stage Three (Late Disseminated Lyme Disease) – At this stage, bacteria are widespread in the body. If treatment has not begun, patients may be experiencing severe symptoms and loss of quality of life.

When a tick attaches and feeds on your skin, it is essential to remove the tick as soon as possible. The longer the tick is attached, the higher the risk is of contracting Lyme disease. After a tick bite, it is normal for a small, red bump to appear. This red bump typically heals on its own and is not a sign of Lyme disease. If the tick spreads Lyme disease, the initial symptoms will develop within 30 days (average is one week).

Initial Symptoms

Lyme disease rash
  • Erythema Migrans (Rash) – Within three days of an initial tick bite, you may develop a rash. It expands, eventually clearing in the center and looking like a bulls-eye or target. This rash slowly grows and can spread as large as a foot across. The rash may feel warm to the touch but is usually not itchy or painful. Above all, this rash is the trademark sign of Lyme disease and should be an indicator to see your physician. However, while this is the main sign of Lyme disease, not everyone gets it. 20 to 30 percent of patients infected with Lyme disease never develop the rash.
  • Flu-like Symptoms – Flu-like symptoms develop around the same time as the rash begins to spread. Swollen lymph nodes are also common.

If you know you have been bit, or if you see the target rash, get in for treatment immediately. Immediate antibiotic therapy is often enough to cure Lyme disease.

As Lyme Disease Progresses

If left untreated, symptoms will continue to progress. They spread to other areas of the body and often become resistant to traditional antibiotic treatment. Additional symptoms that develop in the months after initial exposure include:

  • Erythema Migrans (Rash) Spreads– The initial target rash continues to spread. In many cases, additional target rashes can develop on other areas of the body.
  • Joint and Muscular Complications – Lyme disease can attack the joints in your body, causing severe pain and swelling. While it can affect any joint in the body, the knees tend to be a target. This can be referred to as Lyme arthritis. Pain can extend beyond the joints, affecting tendons, muscles and even cause bone pain.
  • Neurological Complications – Neurological symptoms can surface within weeks of infection or can develop months or years later. Lyme disease can cause impaired muscle movement, numbness or weakness in the arms and legs, and nerve pain. Bell’s palsy (temporary facial paralysis), meningitis (inflammation in the brain) and spinal cord inflammation also occur.
  • Severe Fatigue – This goes beyond the need to take a nap or feeling overly tired. This level of fatigue can be debilitating and greatly affects your quality of life.
  • Organ Involvement – In severe cases, Lyme disease can affect various organs in the body. This includes eye inflammation, heart complications (irregular heartbeats) or inflammation of the liver.
  • Cognitive Complications – Impaired memory, confusion, inability to concentrate and loss of words. Completing daily tasks may become difficult.

Traditional Treatment Courses for Lyme Disease

Tall grass where ticks may live

When it comes to Lyme disease, early treatment is critical. Traditional treatment is an extended course of oral antibiotics. In more severe cases, intravenous antibiotics may be given. When treated early enough, the course of antibiotics is often enough to cure the disease and patients recover quickly. In some cases, patients will continue to experience symptoms even after treatment. In these cases, an additional course of antibiotics may help. However, research has shown that longer courses of antibiotics rarely provide benefits.

Patients that do not respond to antibiotics, or those that begin treatment late in the disease, are often unable to find relief. On the contrary, they continue to battle with chronic conditions and permanent damage to joints and the nervous system. Johns Hopkins researchers determined that many patients treated and, according to testing, cured of the condition, often suffer lingering issues. Their research concluded that Post-Treatment Lyme Disease Syndrome (PTLDS) is a credible diagnosis. However, patients are left with no effective traditional treatments. This is where hyperbaric oxygen therapy often provides relief where nothing else can.