What is Hyperbaric Medicine?
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy
is a medical treatment that involves breathing pure oxygen in a pressurized environment. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is a well-established treatment for carbon monoxide poising and decompression sickness, a potential risk of scuba diving. Other conditions treated with hyperbaric oxygen therapy include serious infections, bubbles of air in your blood vessels, sudden sensorineural hearing loss and wounds that may not heal as a result of diabetes, radiation injury, or a compromised flap or graft.
In a hyperbaric oxygen therapy chamber, the air pressure is increased two to three times higher than normal air pressure. Under these conditions, your lungs can gather much more oxygen than it would be possible breathing pure oxygen at normal air pressure. As your blood carries this extra oxygen throughout your body, this helps fight bacteria and stimulate the release of substances called growth factors and stem cells, which promote healing.
How does hyperbaric oxygen therapy work?
Pure and pressurized oxygen helps promote wound healing in several ways. Oxygen is normally concentrated in our red blood cells, but through HBOT, oxygen is dissolved into other bodily fluids (like plasma) and then transported to areas starved for oxygen. This process:
- Reduces tissue swelling by flooding cells with oxygen
- Promotes formation of new blood vessels, connective tissue, and skin cells
- Prevent reperfusion injury (tissue damage) by encouraging natural oxygen radical scavengers to seek out problem areas
- Resists infection by blocking harmful bacteria and strengthening the immune system
What can HBOT treat?
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is perhaps most associated with diving injuries and
chronic wound healing,
but it’s a recognized as a safe and effective treatment for more than a dozen acute and chronic conditions*, from
diabetic foot ulcers to radiation injury.
- Decompression illness (sometimes called diving sickness)
- Carbon monoxide intoxication/poisoning
- Cyanide poisoning
- Gas embolism/air embolism (blockage of blood supply to a vital organ)
- Gas gangrene/myonecrosis (bacterial infection)
- Acute traumatic peripheral ischemia (tissue injury to an extremity caused by lack or loss of blood flow)
- Crush injuries/suturing of severed limbs
- Progressive necrotizing infections, such as necrotizing fasciitis (death of tissue caused by fast-spreading bacterial infection)
- Acute peripheral arterial insufficiency (which can lead to ulcers and other non-healing wounds)
- Compromised skin grafts/skin flaps
- Chronic refractory osteomyelitis (bone infection)
- Osteoradionecrosis (bone injury caused by radiation)
Soft tissue radionecrosis
(tissue damage caused by radiation)
- Actinomycosis (rare bacterial infection that causes sores and abscesses)
- Diabetic wounds of the lower extremities (ex: foot wounds)
Aside from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS)-approved conditions above, HBOT therapy is continually being researched as a viable treatment for a range of acute and chronic conditions.
(*You might hear or see these sometimes referred to as “indications” by those in the medical profession.)