Background: The use of hyperbaric oxygen for children with cerebral palsy has spread worldwide, despite little scientific evidence of efficacy. We did a randomised trial to assess the efficacy and side-effects of this form of therapy in children with cerebral palsy.
Methods: 111 children with cerebral palsy aged 3-12 years were randomly assigned hyperbaric oxygen (n=57) or slightly pressurised room air (n=54). All children received 40 treatments over 2 months. Hyperbaric oxygen treatment was 1 h in 100% oxygen at 1.75 atmospheres absolute (ATA); children on slightly pressurised air received air at 1.3 ATA (the lowest pressure at which pressure can be felt, thereby ensuring the maintenance of masking). The main outcome measure was gross motor function. Secondary outcomes included performance in activities of daily living, attention, working memory, and speech.
Findings: For all outcomes, both groups improved over the course of the study, but without any difference between the two treatments. The score on the global gross motor function measure increased by 3.0% in the children on slightly pressurised air and 2.9% in those on hyperbaric oxygen. The mean difference between treatments was -0.40 (95% CI -1.69 to 0.90, p=0.544). Other changes were seen in speech, attention, memory, and functional skills. Ear problems occurred in 27 children treated by hyperbaric oxygen and in 15 treated with hyperbaric air (p=0.004).
Interpretation: In this study, hyperbaric oxygen did not improve the condition of children with cerebral palsy compared with slightly pressurised air. The improvement seen in both groups for all dimensions tested deserves further consideration.