You may have heard of using hyperbaric chambers to treat the “bends” that can occur if a scuba diver comes back to the surface too quickly. While that was the first use of hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT), an increasing number of conditions are now treated successfully with this unique therapy. HBOT is low-risk, non-invasive, and has very few side effects.
What is Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy?
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy uses pure oxygen in a pressurized environment to treat serious infections, wounds that won’t heal, decompression sickness, and other health problems. Red blood cells carry the oxygen your body must have to function. However, the amount they can carry is limited. If you have an injury or serious infection, your body needs extra oxygen to survive and heal.
HBOT helps your blood carry extra oxygen to speed your recovery. Extra oxygen can assist with healing, fighting infection, and stimulating the release of stem cells from your bone marrow. Stem cells can target injured or infected tissue and start the repair process.
What to Expect with HBOT
HBOT can be given in a one-person chamber or a pressurized room that allows multiple patients to receive therapy. The one-person chamber is transparent, and you lie down on the bed. In a pressurized room, patients sit in comfortable chairs or beds with a transparent oxygen hood over their heads. The air pressure is slowly increased two to three times higher than normal air pressure. This lets your lungs take in much more oxygen, and your blood absorbs more oxygen than normal breathing.
Most patients feel very little sensation while receiving HBOT. During the pressurization phase, you will experience a “fullness” buildup in your ears caused by the change in air pressure. Before you start therapy, you will be taught a variety of techniques to reduce that fullness.
You must be prescribed HBOT by a doctor. The number of treatments will vary depending on your specific health needs. For maximum effectiveness, hyperbaric treatments need to be done regularly, usually five days a week, for one to two hours.
A trained hyperbaric technician will monitor you and talk to you periodically during your treatment. The tech will review the treatment process with you and take your vital signs before and after treatment. Additionally, a hyperbaric doctor is available to monitor your progress and answer questions. Patient education is provided during your visit, and all concerns are addressed before treatment.
At the Hyperbaric Physicians of Georgia (HPG) facilities, the HBOT chambers are equipped with televisions. You can watch a movie, TV programming, or just rest or nap.
Equipment used by HPG is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. HPG staff are continually trained in current HBOT procedures and safety measures. Your safety, as well as the safety of HPG staff, is of paramount importance.
Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy Benefits
HBOT provides body-wide benefits by delivering healing oxygen. HBOT has been used successfully with patients to:
- Treat non-healing wounds: Many factors can keep a wound from healing quickly: tissues aren’t getting enough oxygen (hypoxia), tissues aren’t being repaired fast enough, reduced immune response, and inflammation prolongs tissue swelling. Instead of relying on blood vessels to provide the oxygen, HBOT pushes oxygen into your tissues from the outside. If you see no progress in wound healing after two weeks, ask your doctor if HBOT would help.
- Helps with the poor immune response against infections: White blood cells need large amounts of oxygen, as provided by HBOT, to kill bacteria. HBOT is especially helpful with deep bone infections (osteomyelitis), flesh-eating infections, brain abscesses, and chronic infections.
- Treat injuries: Hyperbaric oxygen therapy wound healing is often used especially where blood vessels have been damaged and can’t transport the oxygen and nutrients required to repair tissues. HBOT can help build new blood vessels, which build new tissues that increase healing.
- Reduce inflammation: Treatment is helpful with inflammation related to transplanted tissue, skin grafts, and reconstructive surgery; wounds caused by diabetes complications, crush injuries, amputations, and the chronic inflammation of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).
- Treat anemia: Anemia is a blood disorder that causes a loss of blood, which makes it harder for your body to get oxygen to cells.
- Helps with irritable bowel syndrome (ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease): It can also help heal painful mouth sores, digestive tract ulcers, and fistulas (an abnormal passage from the skin into the body). These wounds increase the risk of infections and cannot be treated with external wound care. HBOT gets oxygen deep into tissues and wounds that extend to the bone. These are often resistant to antibiotics.
- Reduce pain from IBD, wounds, surgery, and non-healing stomach ulcers.
- Treat traumatic brain injury: (caused by concussions, contusions, skull penetration, or tearing caused by twisting of the brain), brain injury caused by carbon monoxide or cyanide poisoning, and decompression sickness. Lack of oxygen is usually linked to most brain injuries.
- Treat acquired brain injuries, such as strokes, tumors, degenerative diseases, and toxins, which are also related to insufficient oxygen. HBOT helps heal brain injuries by increasing oxygen, suppressing inflammation, decreasing cell death, and reducing pressure inside the skull from swelling, blocked circulation, or damaged tissue. HBOT can bypass vessel blockage or destruction by delivering oxygen directly to brain tissue.
- Treat the damage done by cancer treatment, such as radiation. Radiation can cause brain injury, sores that lead to bone death, radiation burns, and radiation-induced wounds. Radiation to the head and neck can cause painful damage to salivary glands, mouth tissue, teeth, and jaws. Chest radiation causes the skin to break down, leading to infection and pain. Radiation to the mid-section can cause bladder pain and incontinence. HBOT helps stimulate cell growth in the lining of the bowels by building new blood vessels. New vessels build new tissue to aid wound healing.
- Hyperbaric oxygen therapy benefits skin by correcting age spots, repairing sagging skin, and providing an overall youthful appearance.
What is the Most Common Complication of Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy?
HBOT is very safe, and there are few negative side effects. The most common is damage to the eardrums and sinuses caused by pressure changes.
Any air-filled body cavity can feel the effects of pressure change: sinuses, bowels, bladder, lungs, and teeth. Our bodies adjust to pressure changes effectively. However, if something is blocking your pressure-equalizing systems, such as a sinus infection or congestion, this side effect is more likely to occur. It can cause pain in your cheeks, eyes or forehead, and a nosebleed. Before you undergo HBOT, you will be shown how to reduce this pressure in your ears.
Some patients have minor vision changes after 20 treatments, including myopia or blurry vision, eyelid twitching, and faster cataract development. These self-correct after treatment ends.
Claustrophobia (fear of enclosed spaces) is a common side effect. However, individual HBOT chambers are transparent, so you will be able to see all around you. An HBOT treatment room is no more enclosed than any room. Your HBOT doctor will thoroughly assess if you can tolerate the therapy. Also, if you’re in the chamber and cannot stand it, your technician will be ready to take you out. You always have the right to promptly end a session.
Hypoglycemia (dropping blood sugar levels) can be common for people with diabetes. Blood sugar levels tend to go down with HBOT. This can be corrected by starting your therapy with a higher-than-normal blood sugar level.
Feeling tired after an HBOT session is common. However, some people feel energized after a treatment.
Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy Cost
Many people are curious about hyperbaric oxygen therapy prices. Hyperbaric Physicians of Georgia’s facilities have contractual arrangements with most commercial health insurance carriers, along with Medicare and Medicaid. Before your appointment, our staff will contact your insurance company and verify your coverage for HBOT. Staff will give you an estimate of any out-of-pocket costs associated with your deductible and/or copays.
The Hyperbaric Physicians of Georgia and the Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy in Atlanta provide comprehensive, safe treatment for wounds and other conditions. Make an appointment through our contact form here, or call us at 770-422-0517. Visit our website at hbomdga.com for details about our services and answers to frequently asked questions.