This week I’ve been doing something very peculiar. I’ve been diving to great depths, but not the kind of diving that involves water. I’ve just started an intensive month of oxygen therapy at The Chilterns MS Centre in Halton. Before I go any further, I do not have MS but I am very proud to live so close to such an amazing facility for those who do. It is a charity which is very close to my heart for many reasons and a very worthwhile charity to support – the centre at Halton is AMAZING.
Oxygen therapy is becoming more common as a supporting treatment of MS patients. Many see improvements in mobility, fatigue and reduction in pain. I was interested to find out that although 80% of oxygen therapy users at the Chilterns MS Centre have #MS – 20% have a myriad of other conditions including cancer, ulcers, allergies, excema, collitis or sport’s injuries.
The centre runs about 4-5 sessions a day at different levels from P2 (the lowest) to P4 (the highest). You start off at P2 and work your way up, through P3 to P4 which gives the most benefit.
This is a picture of the centre’s old oxygen chamber (must take a new one) but it gives you an idea. About 4 or 5 people sit in a round metal tank with pipes going here there and everywhere and proper Wallace and Grommitt dials. It all looks very technical but the operatives tell me that anyone can learn to operate the oxygen chamber.
You wear a mask which is linked to pure oxygen and you sit in there breathing away for about an hour. It takes a little longer, probably half an hour longer, 15 mins at beginning and end when the chamber is pressurising and de-pressurising.
Most people bring in a book, magazine or kindle but having wifi in the chamber means I can keep up with some emails and work, write blogs (I’m writing this half way through a dive) and also catching up on reading. This week The Other Queen by Philippa Gregory for my book club in case you were interested. I have also been tweeting from the chamber which even joined in a live Twitter Q&A for TalkHealth about skin disease this week. I thought I might be the only person tweeting from an oxygen chamber but I’m not; someone who is using oxygen for MS is also tweeting. Check out @TheMSinME on Twitter if you or someone you know has MS and you’re wondering about how oxygen therapy could help.
So why am I diving each day for a month? Well it’s been something I’ve wanted to do for years but it’s a big committment making the time to go every day for a month. After that I will reduce my treatments to twice a week and then possibly only once a month for a maintenance dose. We shall see. I’m hoping I will see some benefits and the reason I’m doing this is to see if it will help my eczema, asthma and allergies. I have anaphylaxis to some foods (nuts, dairy and soya) and less severe allergies to wheat, celery and tomato. There are also other foods which cause an immune response, eczema flare-up or give me IBS. I also have nodular prurigo which is a particular annoying and unsightly form of eczema where big hard lumps appear which itch like blazes, demand scratching and then proceed to remain infected, angry and bleed forever! I get very run down, have a very dodgy immune system blah blah. I’ll stop the moaning now.
So why oxygen therapy?
My family have quite strong connections with oxygen therapy. My uncle (Thanks for bullying me into finally doing this) Cyril, who used to work in the navy as a deep sea diver has seen the inside of many oxygen chambers in his career. He subsequently used one when he had cancer and is now cured – he is sure the oxygen had a huge part to play in his healing as he stopped taking the prescribed medication due to unpleasant side effects. Anyway to cut a long story short, Cyril got very involved with his local MS Centre in Guildford, helping to operate the chambers and learning more about the amazing qualities of oxygen therapy.
Cyril also knows Dr Philip James and Petra Klimpt who probably know more about the benefits of oxygen therapy than anyone on the planet! I have been lucky enough to have long chats with Philip and really helpful email conversations with Petra, about how it might help me. He has seen my eczema when it’s been pretty bad and has often asked me why I haven’t tried it yet. My only defence has been laziness, workload and I suppose a bit of fear. If it doesn’t work I’d feel like I’d wasted my time and money. No more apathy and delaying. Oxygen therapy is relatively affordable. At the Halton MS Centre, if you book a week in a block it costs just £20 a session. A bargain when I think of how much I’ve spent on potions, cures and other treatments over the years.
What’s involved in a course of oxygen therapy?
Initially it’s advisable to do an intensive 4 weeks course; a one hour treatment every day, every week for a month – that’s 20 sessions. After this you could try reducing to twice a week, then possibly just once a month for a top up. This depends on the person and how well they respond to oxygen therapy.
Petra explained why this method works so well:
“The importance is to do daily 1hr sessions, Mo-Fri for an initial course of 20 sessions. It is a bit like taking oral antibiotics, to get the full benefit we need to take the tablets daily and not spread out over many weeks. Oxygen is our body’s natural antibiotic dealing with inflammation and infection, moreover, we now know that oxygen controls over 8000 genes and a course of 20 sessions increases stem cells eightfold. The key in allergies is to reduce the inflammatory response to the allergens. Many years ago we treated a baby with eczema and he is now a young teenager and the eczema had gone away after the 6 sessions he has had. We have seen psoriasis disappear and also an eczema sufferer with chronic eczema is now eczema free.”
How do you get started with oxygen therapy?
Having oxygen therapy isn’t the sort of thing your doctor will ever recommend. I tried to speak to my deramatologist and doctor about it and whilse neither would fully support it, my doctor has signed the relevant form to say he is aware I’m trying this wacky treatment. I had hoped to be able to get some tests done to benchmark my health and allergy levels before beginning to see if there could be any scientific proof that things had got getter, stayed the same etc. But this wasn’t possible.
There is always the chance that I won’t see any improvement but at least I will have tried it. I am hoping however that I will see a marked reduction in symptoms but only time will tell. Whether that will be down to the placebo effect I shall never know but I’m excited to find out.
It is very easy to get started though.
- Find out where your nearest oxygen chamber is located. You should be able to find your nearest centre here. I joined as a member at my local centre but I don’t think that is a requirement for treatment.
- Visit the centre and find out the procedure for getting treatment
- Inform your doctor that you plan to try oxygen therapy and what for
- Book a session, get fitted for a mask and get diving
After a tour of the centre I signed up for my first week of treatment this week. I book a fortnight in advance and pay at the beginning of each week. Very simple and I have been really impressed with the centre. Many of the staff are volunteers, and all the staff who operate the chamber are voluntary.
“All of the centres are accessed by self-referral because they are charities and not NHS facilities. If you contact the centres directly they will explain to you what paperwork they may have for you to complete. Many still call a form they might ask you to take to your GP to sign a referral form but it is not a medical requirement, it is a notification form only to inform your GP that you are having oxygen treatment. It was introduced when the first centre opened in Dundee in 1982 to educate GPs, give them the chance to contact Philip for further information, hopefully send other patients to the centre, and out of professional courtesy. If your GP decides not to sign it that is fine you have done your duty by informing him/her. The centres are also not a private for profit organisation and, therefore, depend on donations for treatment sessions. Unfortunately, it is extremely rare that anyone accessing one of the charity centres has had the NHS pay for oxygen treatment. Just discuss it with people at the centre, they are always happy to help.”
If you’d like to know the answer to any other questions like:
Why couldn’t you just inhale oxygen from a tank? Why is the chamber better?
How would it work?
What’s it like inside the chamber?
Is it dangerous?
What does it feel like?
Does it hurt?
Can you take your mask off during treatment?
What does a typical treatment involve? What happens?
Join me on my next dive for an oxygen therapy tweetup on Monday 22nd September at 2.30pm and ask me any questions you have. Use the hashtag #AllergyOxygen to get involved.
Please feel free to ask questions on the blog here too. I plan to write weekly updates about the treatment and will answer more questions as I go along.
I think that’s enough for a short introduction. You’ll just have to stay tuned to hear how I get on.
So far I can report I am full of beans, rushing around like mad. My asthma is pretty good though it has been quite stable recently and usually only gets triggered by allergens like dust, cats, dogs etc.
I was VERY itchy, especially during and directly after treatment. Just a coincidence? Nothing to do with the treatment? It could just be the temperature – for the last dive on Friday it was 25 degrees in the chamber which was quite warm. This weekend however I have not been itchy at all. I have also slept so well and woken refreshed. All in all, feeling great. #OxygenTherapyRocks
If you’re interested in finding out more Dr Philip James has written a book, Oxygen and the Brain, and has a detailed website here.
Jane Dean on treating allergies, eczema and more with oxygen therapy on the Foods Matter website.
PS. I would also like to thank Jane and Michael for nagging more than anyone else to try this treatment and helping me get the whole thing moving. ;o)
PPS. You will notice some old blog posts from when I tried this treatment ages ago, at the old Chilterns MS Centre. For various reasons including time, over booking, giving up my slot to proper MS patients etc. I kind of stopped doing the sessions. Glad I’m now back on track though.