So what is hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) used for? It’s to increase the oxygen to the body’s tissues. Oxygen is vital for building new cells, and many diseases and injuries increase our demand for oxygen.1 Our normal breathing can’t compensate when the demand is too high.
HBOT is appropriate for a variety of diseases and injuries. It can be used when a person needs more oxygen than room air can provide. During these treatments, a hyperbaric specialist administers oxygen. This can be delivered through a mask, a hood, or a sealed chamber. Oxygen therapy in a hyperbaric chamber penetrates the tissues more than with a mask or hood. These different modes are prescribed based on the amount and pressure of the oxygen a patient requires.
What are some benefits of hyperbaric oxygen therapy?
- It promotes wound healing
- It helps build new blood vessels
- It helps fight infection2
- It provides an environment for decompression
- It decreases inflammation3
- It improves the outcome of grafts and flaps
What can hyperbaric oxygen therapy treat?
Deep tissue injury. Capillaries bring needed oxygen to a wound to help it heal. But exposed bone and tendon have very poor vasculature. This makes these types of wounds challenging to heal. With hard-chamber HBOT,the pressure pushes the oxygen into the tissues from the outside. This speeds up slow-healing wounds.
Radiation injury. Radiation injuries, often from cancer treatments, can be shallow or deep. Both kinds share a common problem—they have damaged blood vessels. Radiation targets fast-growing cells, like cells that compose capillaries.4 Patients with radiation injury can suffer very slow healing, but HBOT can speed it up.
Complicated healing. Certain diseases make healing take much longer than a healthy person. Diabetic wounds, venous insufficiency (vein walls and valves that don’t work well), large burns, and gangrene (tissue death due to lack of blood flow) all complicate healing. All demand many more resources from your body than a healthy body needs on average. HBOT can ramp up the oxygen delivered to the tissues to meet the increased need.5
Crush injuries and compartment syndrome. Injuries from crushing and compartment syndrome have a similar effect on tissues. They deprive them of vital blood flow. Crushing injuries damage blood vessels on a large scale. With compartment syndrome, pressure builds up from swollen tissues and bleeding. Without treatment, both can lead to tissue death. HBOT steps in to deliver oxygen while the blood vessels repair.6
Tissue and bone infections. Necrotizing soft tissue infections (NSTIs) and osteomyelitis (bone infection) are fast-moving. And they’re often life-threatening. NSTIs, sometimes called “flesh-eating bacteria” infections, can occur from a small cut.7 Many antimicrobials cannot penetrate bone well, which limits antibiotics.8 Both insidious infections stand a much better chance of healing with HBOT.
Decompression sickness. One of the first uses of hyperbaric oxygen therapy was for decompression sickness. It comes from a fast, extreme change in pressure. This can be in air or water, such as coming up from scuba diving, or pressure loss during air travel. This causes air bubbles to form in your blood or tissues.9 Decompression sickness (the “bends”) is a true emergency. HBOT can help if administered within the first 24 hours.10
Carbon monoxide poisoning. Carbon monoxide has a very similar molecular makeup to oxygen. It latches onto your red blood cells like oxygen would, but doesn’t deliver the benefits of oxygen. This starves the tissues. With prompt intervention, HBOT helps speed the elimination of carbon monoxide.11
Sudden vision loss. Vision loss in a single eye due to central retinal artery occlusion (CRAO) usually has poor outcomes. The retina can’t withstand low oxygen levels for long, and can die. This results in long-term blindness. CRAO had no treatment options until the FDA approved HBOT as a treatment. HBOT within a few hours can reduce the risk of vision loss.12
Sudden hearing loss. Hearing loss, whether spontaneous or from trauma, is detrimental to a person’s quality of life. With a prompt HBOT and steroids, this devastating issue now has a treatment option.13
Anemia related to severe blood loss. Red blood cells carry oxygen to your tissues, but these cells run low with severe bleeding. Without intervention, tissues will starve without oxygen. While the body builds its supply of red blood cells back up, HBOT can help manage the body’s oxygen debt.14
In a treatment setting, oxygen is considered a drug. While it’s often thought of as a gentle treatment, it comes with notable risks. This is especially true with HBOT in chambers. Without appropriate use or monitoring, it can cause oxygen poisoning and seizures. Interest has risen in having soft chambers and masks for home HBOT. However, HBOT is most appropriate in a professional treatment setting, not self-administered at home. Certain health conditions may be dangerous with HBOT, such as alcohol abuse or implanted devices.
Some concerns may only temporarily keep you from safely having an HBO treatment. These include sinus infection, recent ear injury or surgery, wearing something unsafe for the chamber (nail polish, aftershave, etc.), and low blood sugar.15
HBOT isn’t meant to be a stand-alone therapy. It works best when used in tandem with other appropriate therapies. Just as the body requires different processes to function day-to-day, the body needs the support of different functions to heal. Wound care, vascular, and surgical specialists may also work with patients needing HBOT.
Each facility will have its own guidelines for what kinds of issues it can treat with hyperbaric oxygen treatments. A hyperbaric physician can help determine whether HBOT is right for your health issues.
Looking for hyperbaric oxygen therapy near you?
At HyperbaRxs, we’re here to help! We offer HBOT for a variety of health issues, and have locations in several states.
We have hyperbaric oxygen chambers in accredited centers located in:
- Marietta, GA at Kennestone
- Cumming, GA at Northside Forsyth
- Atlanta, GA at St. Joseph’s
- Fayetteville, NC on Boone Trail
- San Francisco, CA on O’Farrell Street
Give us a call at 770-422-0517 for a consult, or book an appointment today!
[While the above is meant to inform, it’s not meant to replace the advice of a doctor that’s been able to assess your case. Please consult a physician if you are having medical concerns.]