When a person has an injury, the injured tissue needs to get oxygen in order to heal. For some people, such as those with diabetes, this can be a slow or difficult process. With hyperbaric oxygen therapy, people can get up to three times as much oxygen as normal, leading to faster wound healing and additional benefits.
What is hyperbaric therapy?
The process of hyperbaric therapy involves sitting in a pressurized room and breathing pure oxygen. Because of the increased air pressure, hyperbaric chamber therapy allows for people to inhale more oxygen than is possible under normal pressure conditions. This means that more of that precious oxygen can get to any wounds or infections that haven’t been healing.
How does the process work?
When the body is injured, that injured tissue needs oxygen to heal. By increasing oxygen during hyperbaric therapy, the body is better able to fight infection. In hyperbaric therapy, the lungs can gather up to three times more oxygen than normal.
Fun fact: Hyperbaric oxygen therapy was first used in 1662 as a therapy for respiratory diseases. Today, oxygen therapy has been a standard treatment for military divers since the 1940s.
What to expect
Most often, the treatment will happen in a single chamber that patients use alone. Typically, patients will be asked to lie on a table that slides into the single chamber, also called a monoplace. Though the patient will be alone in this clear plastic tube, communication with the therapist is open at all times during the treatment.
The chamber is then sealed and the therapist raises the oxygen pressure. Patients may experience some mild ear popping or discomfort. Sessions can last anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours. Some dizziness or lightheadedness may occur immediately following the treatment, but should go away shortly.
What makes a good candidate?
People who suffer from diabetic wounds or ulcers are often recommended for hyperbaric therapy. The treatment is used to treat bubbles of air in the blood vessels, burns, carbon monoxide poisoning, or gangrene. Hyperbaric therapy has been used for many years to treat decompression sickness, which can be caused by scuba diving. There is even some evidence that hyperbaric therapy may be beneficial for even more conditions, including infertility and Alzheimer’s disease.
Because of the extreme changes in pressure, people who have had recent ear surgery or trauma are advised against hyperbaric therapy. Some other considerations to bring up with a healthcare provider can include lung conditions, claustrophobia, or allergic rhinitis.
Ready to pull the trigger?
Hyperbaric therapy has been shown to be effective for the treatment of many conditions. Research is continuing to grow and the therapy may be used even more widely in years to come. All patients should discuss the risks and benefits of the therapy with a healthcare provider on an individual basis.