Hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) is a noninvasive, painless procedure that improves the body's natural healing process. The patient inhales 100% oxygen in a total body chamber where atmospheric pressure is increased and controlled.
The body's tissues need oxygen to function properly. Increasing oxygen levels helps damaged tissue heal. Oxygen at high pressure can further improve tissue function and help the body fight infection under certain conditions. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved HBOT for the treatment of 13 conditions, but there is a push for further approvals.
How the Hyperbaric Works
The HBOT procedure works as follows:
- The patient inhales 100% oxygen intermittently inside a hyperbaric chamber that is pressurized to greater than sea level pressure. The ambient pressure inside the chamber is three times higher than the normal air pressure we breathe. The inhalation of pure oxygen at this pressure increases the concentration of oxygen available to the lungs.
- An HBOT session typically involves sitting or lying in a sealed chamber. Some chambers are room-sized and can accommodate several people. In a chamber for one, the person lies on a table that slides into a clear plastic tube.
- Then pressurized oxygen is received through a mask or a hood. During the session, patients can talk to the therapist or technician and listen to music or watch TV to facilitate relaxation.
- HBOT is usually an outpatient procedure.
- A doctor will typically recommend a number of sessions, depending on the condition. The length of the session also depends on the ailment. A session may last 30 minutes to 2 hours. For chronic illnesses, a session usually lasts around 2 hours. Some conditions, such as carbon monoxide poisoning, might be treated in as few as three visits. Others, such as non-healing wounds, may require as many as 20 to 40 treatments.
What Conditions Are Treated with Hyperbaric Medicine?
Your body's tissues need an adequate supply of oxygen to function efficiently. More oxygen is required when tissue is injured. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy increases the amount of oxygen your blood can carry. An increase in blood oxygen temporarily restores normal levels of blood gases and tissue function to promote healing and fight infection. This helps fight bacteria and stimulate the release of substances called growth factors and stem cells, which promote healing.
According to the Mayo Clinic, Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy is used to treat several medical conditions. You may need Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy if you have one of the following conditions:
- Severe anemia
- Brain abscess
- Bubbles of air in your blood vessels (arterial gas embolism)
- Decompression sickness
- Carbon monoxide poisoning
- Crushing injury
- Sudden deafness
- Infection of skin or bone that causes tissue death
- Non-healing wounds (such as a diabetic foot ulcer)
- Radiation injury
- Skin graft or skin flap at risk of tissue death
- Sudden vision loss
Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy is an effective treatment for decompression sickness, arterial gas embolism, and severe carbon monoxide poisoning. Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy may be used as part of a comprehensive treatment plan and administered with other therapies and drugs to effectively treat other conditions.
The Risk of Hyperbaric Treatment
Medical News Today discussed some of the risks of Hyperbaric treatment. You can find HBOT chambers in various places, from medical outpatient facilities to spas. There are even chambers available for home use. However, the FDA has raised concerns about the risks of using HBOT "off label."
People should receive HBOT for the approved purposes only. Otherwise, it could result in wasting time and money as well as a risk of side effects. The FDA has also warned that using HBOT for unapproved purposes may worsen the existing condition.