During the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, many troops suffered head injuries from roadside bombs that led to at least 250,000 cases of TBI from these two wars alone, according to the Denver Post. Military suicide is on the rise, and two recent studies revealed that veterans who suffer from traumatic brain injury or post-traumatic stress disorder are much more likely to report chronic vision disorders. Although there is still no definitive treatment for TBIs, the Rocky Mountain Hyperbaric Institute is seeing positive results with hyperbaric oxygen therapy that’s giving troops and their families hope for the future.
Traumatic brain injuries can severely affect someone’s quality of life and can lead to headaches, memory loss, balance problems, and cognitive difficulties. TBIs can lead to chronic pain, and the need for an effective treatment is crucial as the number of troops who commit suicide is rising. More soldiers are dying because of suicides, such as prescription drug overdoses, than because of combat.
Researchers at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center recently found that veterans who suffer from brain injuries or PTSD often suffer from chronic vision problems. Out of the 31 patients who were studied, 67 percent reported vision disorders, even though none had suffered direct eye wounds. Veterans reported two vision problems more than others: Convergence, which is the ability to focus both eyes simultaneously in order to read or see nearby objects, and sensitivity to light. Impaired vision continued to be a problem a year after their injuries that caused the TBI.
The Miami Veterans Affairs Medical Center and the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute found veterans with PTSD were more likely to develop dry eye, a disorder that disrupts the tear glands’ normal ability to keep the eyes moist. About 20 percent of PTSD veterans have dry eye syndrome, although it is unclear if the disorder directly causes the dry eye.
Hyperbaric Oxygen therapy (HBOT) might be an effective treatment for TBIs and is already showing promise for veterans. The therapy is non-invasive and uses a pressurize oxygen chamber to saturate the blood system with up to 15 times more oxygen than breathing air in a typical setting. Blood cells that might have been damaged from the trauma can be healed as the body’s red blood cells carry more oxygen to the brain.
Research has already been conducted that shows veterans exposed to HBOT experienced improvements in intelligence and cognitive difficulties. Dr. Paul Harch has also stated that the treatment helps PTSD.
Although RMHI in Colorado has already treated about 300 patients and seen positive results, the military is still conducting their own research on the effectiveness and safety of HBOT. Lieutenant Colonel Robert Price, principal investigator on the effectiveness of HBOT, explains that if the treatment improves the quality of life for veterans and is adopted, veterans could easily obtain it: “We’ve not deprived our soldiers of anything based on cost.”