Oxygen therapy could be the latest solution provided by doctors to treat debilitating symptoms of longCovid, after research in Israel showed how it can repair brain tissue damaged by the virus.
Long-term neurological conditions are some of the most common symptoms associated with a Covid-19 infection, with about 30 per cent of people reporting some level of brain fog, headaches or mental fatigue months after recovering from the virus.
It has left millions around the world unable to work effectively but an innovative treatment used to stimulate stem-cell growth and accelerate tissue repair has proven to be effective in treating longCovid sufferers, a study has found.
Research at the Sagol Centre for Hyperbaric Medicine and Research at Tel Aviv University suggests the Covid-19 virus can damage brain regions responsible for cognitive function, mental status and pain interpretation.
LongCovid patients who received 40 sessions of hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) over two months showed significant improvement in their cognitive function, compared with those who were given a placebo.
“The study revealed that HBOT can induce structural and functional repair of the damaged regions of the brain and improve the cognitive, behavioural and emotional function of the unfortunate patients suffering from post-Covid-19 conditions,” said Dr Shai Efrati, lead researcher on the project.
“The research suggests that the development of post-Covid-19 conditions related to the central nervous system includes direct neurological injury mostly in the frontal lobes — the area of the brain that plays a major role in cognitive and mental functions.
“In some patients, the virus can penetrate the brain through the cribriform plate, the part of the skull located just above our nose, and trigger chronic brain injury presented as cognitive decline, such as brain fog, loss of concentration and mental fatigue.”
The study involved 73 patients with reported post-Covid-19 cognitive symptoms, such as inability to concentrate, brain fog, forgetfulness and difficulty recalling desired words or thoughts.
Symptoms had significantly affected their quality of life and persisted for more than three months after a positive PCR test.
The Dubai clinic increasing the pressure on cognitive decline
During the treatment, patients entered an oxygen chamber usually used by deep-sea divers to decompress safely outside of the water, rather than when submerged.
The chamber delivers 100 per cent oxygen by mask during each 90-minute session at pressure equivalent to that found 10 metres underwater.
MRI brain scans were completed to test therapy progress, while subjects took part in cognitive tests and had their symptoms evaluated by a doctor.
The treatment is offered at the Aviv Clinic in Dubai, where an evaluation for long Covid starts at Dh25,000 ($6,806).
That includes a comprehensive neurocognitive evaluation, physical performance assessment, fitness test, brain scan, blood tests, chest x-ray, smell and taste test, as well as a full medical checkup by a doctor.
Costs do not include the price of treatment, which can run into the tens of thousands of dirhams, depending on the severity of the condition.
Aviv Clinics used oxygen therapy last year to treat a previously healthy and athletic 56-year-old UAE resident suffering from long Covid, months after his release from hospital.
“This client told us that reversing the executive function effects of long Covid, such as memory and flexibility in thinking, as well as physical performance attributes were both very important quality of life priorities,” said Mike Frayne, chief executive of Aviv Clinics Dubai.
“When we measured the pre and post-treatment executive function skills, we saw a substantial increase in executive function performance.
"From a physical performance perspective, he was able to go from being limited to light jogging due to breathlessness to reporting that he returned to mountain running and rowing after the full HBOT treatment.”
The therapy is more commonly used to treat wounds and repair damaged tissue by flooding it with oxygen rich-plasma to supercharge the healing process.
It has also proved effective in treating brain injuries and degenerative disorders, such as Alzheimer’s, and can now be used effectively in the most serious cases of long Covid.
Researchers at the University of Cambridge say 78 per cent of long Covid patients experienced difficultly in concentrating, while 69 per cent said they had brain fog and 68 per cent reported forgetfulness.
“Millions of those who have recovered from Covid-19 are experiencing debilitating symptoms which persist for weeks, months or even two years following their original infection,” said Dr Amir Hadanny, chief researcher and head of global clinical operations at Aviv Clinics.