Hyperbaric oxygen therapy has been gaining popularity in recent years as an alternative treatment for speeding up wound healing. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy involves exposing your body to 100 percent pure oxygen at a pressure that has to be higher than average. It is believed that wounds need oxygen to speed up the healing process and therefore, exposing a wound or injury to 100 percent oxygen is said to speed up the healing process. It is possible to carry out hyperbaric oxygen therapy in several ways, though it is most commonly administered in a special room known as a hyperbaric oxygen chamber.
What is Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy?
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is a process that involves breathing 100 percent pure oxygen while being in a pressurized room or tube.
The red blood cells travel throughout the body and carry the required gases and nutrients to all of the organs and tissues of the body. One of the significant gases carried by the red blood cells is oxygen, which is required by the body to maintain healthy tissues and also for repairing the damaged ones.
Doctors today recommend hyperbaric oxygen therapy for many different types of medical conditions. For example, if you have a wound that is not healing as it should be at a normal rate, then your doctor might recommend hyperbaric oxygen therapy. This is common in radiation and diabetes injuries that cause wounds to health at a slower than average rate.(1) In such cases, hyperbaric oxygen therapy works to deliver high doses of oxygen to the tissues, promoting healthy healing.(2)
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is typically carried out in a hyperbaric oxygen therapy chamber or tube, in which the air pressure has been increased up to three times more than the normal air pressure. Under such conditions, the lungs are able to gather more oxygen than would be possible at normal air pressure.
When your blood carries this pure oxygen throughout the body, it helps fight off bacteria and also stimulates the release of substances known as stem cells and growth factors, which are known to promote healing.
What Health Conditions Can Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy Help Treat?
Once you enter the hyperbaric oxygen chamber, your body gets exposed to 100 percent pure oxygen as well as a higher than average level of air pressure.(3) This is known to boost the process of healing at a much faster rate since it delivers a far greater concentration of oxygen to the tissues of the body. This is not going to be possible under the normal circumstances in your body.
Your doctor is likely to prescribe this treatment primarily for encouraging the healing of wounds. Doctors are also likely to prescribe hyperbaric oxygen therapy to help the body fight off infections. It is also used to provide more oxygen to your tissues that have gotten damaged due to being exposed to carbon monoxide.
For instance, your doctor may prescribe this therapy to be undertaken a couple of times in a week for a few weeks if you are suffering from gangrenous wounds, burns, or a radiation injury.
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is also commonly used for treating decompression sickness. Decompression sickness is a condition that is usually caused by the following conditions:
- Inhalation of carbon monoxide
- Traumatic brain injury
- A stroke
How is Hyperbaric Therapy Performed?
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy can be performed i9nside a one-person room. The patient has to lie down on a bench or a table, which then slides inside a clear plastic tube. There are also multi-person chambers available. In these chambers, it is possible for several people to lie down or sit inside. However, these multi-person chambers are usually only found at bigger medical facilities.
Once you are inside the chamber, you will receive 100 percent oxygen, and the air pressure of the chamber will also be higher than normal. You only need to lie down or sit inside the room and breathe in the oxygen. The treatment session may last for one to two hours, and you might need to take multiple sessions in the chambers, depending on your medical condition.
Are There Any Side Effects of Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy?
The risks associated with hyperbaric oxygen therapy are quite low, but it does carry some risks and side effects.
The biggest risk is that serious fires and even explosions are much more likely to take place in an environment that is filled with 100 percent oxygen. You will, therefore, be instructed to not bring anything inside the hyperbaric oxygen room that can easily catch or start a fire. Some examples may include:
- Petroleum-based products
- Hair care products
- Battery-powered devices
If you have a doubt on an item and are wondering whether you can bring it inside or not, then it is always better to ask the chamber specialist or your doctor.
During the hyperbaric oxygen therapy, you might feel some pressure build-up within your ears due to the high air pressure inside the chamber. In some rare cases, it might be that you experience some of the more severe side effects, including a seizure that is induced by excessive oxygen going to your central nervous system.
Some of the other potential side effects of hyperbaric oxygen therapy may include:
- Ear injuries such as rupture of the eardrum
- Temporary nearsightedness
- Cataract and myopia(4)
- Injuries to the lungs such as pneumothorax (a collapsed lung)
If you start to feel any type of discomfort or pain during the therapy, then you should immediately let your doctor know as it might be a sign of a side effect of the treatment.(5)
Conclusion – What Benefits Can You Expect?
You are going to undergo multiple sessions of hyperbaric oxygen therapy in order for it to prove beneficial. It is usually also used along with other treatments. Your overall treatment plan and results will vary depending on many factors, including:
- Your age
- Your gender
- Your overall health
- Your medical condition
If you have a wound that has not been healing at a normal rate, then your doctor might recommend that you try hyperbaric oxygen therapy alongside other treatments such as bandaging, antibiotics, and wound care. A typical wound may require 25 to 30 sessions of hyperbaric oxygen therapy before healing fully.
On the other hand, inhalation injuries are going to require a lesser number of therapy session as compared to slow-healing wounds. For instance, having a single, but significant, exposure to carbon monoxide will only require you to undergo one session of hyperbaric oxygen therapy only. Furthermore, people who are experiencing decompression sickness generally also only need one session of the therapy to alleviate their symptoms dramatically. As a general rule, the more chronic the medical condition is, the more sessions of hyperbaric therapy you will require to experience any benefits.
If you are interested in trying out hyperbaric oxygen therapy, then you should consult your doctor and discuss the specifics of a treatment plan and outlook for your specific medical condition. Your doctor will also help you understand how many sessions of hyperbaric oxygen therapy you might require and also prescribe some other treatments if required.
- Baroni, G., Porro, T., Faglia, E., Pizzi, G., Mastropasqua, A., Oriani, G., Pedesini, G. and Favales, F., 1987. Hyperbaric oxygen in diabetic gangrene treatment. Diabetes care, 10(1), pp.81-86.
- Tibbles, P.M. and Edelsberg, J.S., 1996. Hyperbaric-oxygen therapy. New England Journal of Medicine, 334(25), pp.1642-1648.
- Anon, (2019). Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy for Wound Healing. [online] Available at: https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/treatment-tests-and-therapies/hyperbaric-oxygen-therapy-for-wound-healing [Accessed 1 Jul. 2019].
- Palmquist, B.M., Philipson, B. and Barr, P.O., 1984. Nuclear cataract and myopia during hyperbaric oxygen therapy. British journal of ophthalmology, 68(2), pp.113-117.
- Plafki, C., Peters, P., Almeling, M., Welslau, W. and Busch, R., 2000. Complications and side effects of hyperbaric oxygen therapy. Aviation, space, and environmental medicine, 71(2), pp.119-124.