What Is Ozone Therapy?

A Controversial Treatment for Chronic Health Conditions and Pain

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Ozone therapy, sometimes called “ozonotherapy,” is a longstanding medical procedure, in which a reactive form of oxygen, ozone (or “O3”), is administered to promote a therapeutic effect in the body. There is considerable debate in the medical community about the efficacy of this therapy, though it’s known to be safe and produce minimal side-effects.

Some evidence exists that ozone therapy can help boost immune responses to infectious diseases, help with the pain associated with and effects of arthritis, and assist with a range of other conditions. Though employed commonly worldwide, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t recognize its therapeutic value, so it’s considered alternative medicine.

Person getting ozone therapy with plastic bag around foot and calf
Igor Alecsander / iStock / Getty Images

Conditions Treated

As noted, there is some debate as to the actual efficacy of ozone therapy, and, in the U.S., it’s primarily administered for more chronic cases, alongside other treatments. Evidence suggests that it can help with a number of conditions, including:

  • Artery diseases: Systemic inflammation results from the body’s immune response to a range of diseases. Most significantly, it results from diseases of the arteries, including stroke, peripheral artery diseases like chronic limb ischemia (in which arms and legs aren’t getting enough blood supply), and the lung disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), among others. Prolonged ozone therapy has been shown to help with these conditions.
  • Cardiac events: Some studies have shown that ozone therapy can help promote heart health in cases of coronary artery disease (CAD) or heart attack.
  • Orthopedic issues: Especially with conditions that involve erosion of joints, such as osteoarthritis of the knee or elbow, ozone therapy has been shown to help. Direct application to affected areas via injection has helped greatly reduce pain over the long term.
  • Chronic pain: Chronic pain resulting from surgery, neck and back pain, and other issues may also be taken on with ozone therapy. It’s considered to take on herniated disc the U.S., and patients with chronic disorders like fibromyalgia employ this therapy to help with pain.
  • Immune system disorders: Patients with chronic and progressive immune system disorders such as fatigue disorder, or other autoimmune disorders may consider this approach for pain relief. In addition, ozone may be effective to help with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), though research results are mixed when it comes to the efficacy of this approach.
  • Gastrointestinal disorders: Studies have shown efficacy in taking on chronic hepatitis C (HCV), liver cirrhosis, and gastrointestinal ulcers.
  • Tissue damage: Application of ozone over areas affected by diabetic foot ulcers, a debilitating skin condition, may help promote healing and healthy tissue function. This therapy may be employed on tissues experiencing ischemia (insufficient blood supply) following surgery.
  • Neurological disorders: A growing body of research has found ozone therapy can assist brain cells in combating degenerative diseases like multiple sclerosis and Alzheimer’s disease.    
  • Cancer: Outside the U.S., ozone therapy is considered a standard approach to help combat the side-effects of cancer drugs. It may be considered an alternative here.

Process

Ozone therapy is an in-clinic treatment, and, in most cases, it requires multiple visits. There are several different ways it’s delivered:

  • O3 Autohemotransfusion: The most popular method of the therapy, this approach involves extracting a predetermined amount of blood, delivering ozone to this sample, and then reinjecting it back into your bloodstream.   
  • Direct injection: Especially for cases involving joint, neck, or back pain, the ozone may be injected directly into the affected area.
  • Insufflation: This method involves using a specialized device to blow the ozone into a body cavity, such as the nose, mouth, rectum, or vagina.
  • Cutaneous delivery: For cases of diabetic foot ulcers or other skin problems, the affected area is enclosed in a sealed pouch, which is flooded with ozone gas.
  • Gas bathing: Patients are placed into a chamber that is filled with gas for inhalation for short periods of time.

The specific approach taken depends on the specific condition or case being treated.

Side Effects

While there is significant controversy surrounding ozone therapy, part of what makes it appealing is that it has few side-effects and is generally well-tolerated. The only significant risk is what amounts to an overdose of the gas.

When ozone is inhaled over prolonged periods, there is a risk of excessive levels causing damage to tissues in the lungs, which is why gas bathing, for instance, is only sparingly employed.

In general, aside from occasional irritation associated with the method of delivery, there are no reported lingering effects to treatments, and recovery is rapid. The most commonly reported side-effects are skin irritation, bruising, and/or pain at the site of any injection. These are easily managed with over-the-counter medications or ointments.

Warnings and Contraindications

Despite its safe profile, there are a couple of medical conditions that serve as contraindications for ozone therapy. Safety is unknown or exposure may even become harmful in these cases:

  • Pregnancy: While there are no studies establishing ozone therapy as dangerous to the fetus, there are not enough establishing its safety for pregnant women.
  • Alcohol intoxication: It’s important that those seeking ozone therapy refrain from drinking alcohol beforehand.
  • Hyperthyroidism: People with hyperactive thyroid gland—a condition that has wide-ranging effects on the body—may respond poorly to treatment.
  • Thrombocytopenia: This blood disorder, in which bone marrow does not produce enough platelets, is a contraindication due to the body’s compromised ability to process oxygen.

A Word From Verywell

While ozone therapy isn’t a standard approach—and a significant portion of the U.S. medical community doesn’t see it as valuable—it’s important to note that this practice has a long history and is still widely used around the world.

Not only is research about more applications ongoing, but, for many, this treatment not only helps with chronic health problems, but it also improves overall quality of life.

However, as an alternative treatment, there may be some exaggerated claims about what it can do. As such, if you’re thinking about this therapy, do as much research as you can: talk to your doctor, look at multiple sources, and make the choice that’s right for you.      

  

  

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