For wound healing, head injuries, diabetic wounds and tissue hypoxia, hyperbaric oxygen therapy is found to be a better approach than oral medications, surgery or topical remedies. Learn what it is, why it has a high prevalence around the world, and how it can benefit a wide array of health conditions when used as an adjunctive treatment.
What is Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy?
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) is a type of treatment which involves breathing pure, high concentrations of oxygen at greater than atmospheric pressure. It can be used in the treatment of decompression sickness, chronic wounds, venous disease and a whole range of other health conditions. Globally, hyperbaric oxygen therapy is believed to be used by over 100,000 people each year. The reason for this is its 85% success rate of healing, measured by a systematic review conducted by the British Medical Journal in 1998.
Pure hyperbaric oxygen therapy provides a high concentration of oxygen to the blood. It does this by compressing and decompressing the air inside a hyperbaric chamber during each breath, or by forcing pure gas into the lungs via hyperbaric bags. The percentage of oxygen in a hyperbaric chamber is higher than 21% — similar to the percentage of oxygen in air at an altitude of 34,000 feet or more. This increased level of oxygen in the body revives the cells in the affected area, which, in turn, results in an improvement to health symptoms.
Benefits of Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy
In hyperbaric oxygen therapy, patients may breathe 100% oxygen through a mask, or they might be put inside a hyperbaric tube and have pure gas forced into their lungs. This therapy is used for treating many conditions. People suffering from health problems caused by low levels of oxygen due to a reduced blood supply may benefit from hyperbaric oxygen therapy. The different health problems it can help with include:
- Diabetic foot ulcers
- Carbon monoxide poisoning
- Decompression sickness
- Arterial gas embolism
- Crash injuries
- Radiation injury
- Traumatic brain injury
- Cerebral palsy
- Barotrauma or profound hearing loss due to changes in air pressure
- Venous ulcers
- Chronic wounds
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy can also be used postoperatively to speed up wound healing, particularly after surgical debridement, when administered within 24 hours of surgery. Several studies have shown that hyperbaric oxygen accelerates skin graft healing and regenerates new skin cells.
Several studies have documented the effects of hyperbaric oxygen treatment on patients undergoing cancer treatment. By receiving an ample supply of oxygen, their blood flow increases, which reduces the symptoms of soft tissue radionecrosis such as headaches, seizures and memory loss, to name a few.
Different Types of Hyperbaric Oxygen Chambers
A hyperbaric oxygen treatment can be performed as an outpatient procedure or in hospital. Patients can choose to use a single chamber or be placed in a multi-person chamber during treatment.
A monoplace chamber is a long tube designed for one person only. The patient will lie inside the tube and breathe high oxygen levels at a set atmospheric pressure for a fixed amount of time.
In a multiplace chamber, more than one patient can be accommodated simultaneously. An individual wears a mask or hood and then chooses whether to lie down or remain seated while receiving high-pressure oxygen.
During the treatment session, a hyperbaric technician will monitor the patients from outside the chamber to ensure they are receiving the oxygen supply prescribed by their primary care provider.
Is Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy Safe for Everyone?
Despite being a safe adjunctive treatment that can be used in conjunction with standard medical treatments, hyperbaric oxygen therapy is not recommended for diabetic patients with low blood sugar as a result of insulin treatment. Additionally, it should not be used by people with certain types of lung disease, or those who have just had ear surgery or have suffered sudden hearing loss.
You should discuss hyperbaric oxygen therapy with your healthcare provider before taking part, as it carries potential risks such as injury to the middle ear, temporary vision loss and sinus problems.
In reality, however, hyperbaric oxygen therapy offers numerous benefits that outweigh its risks. There is no reason why it shouldn't be incorporated into standard wound care or other conventional treatments.