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Published: November 6, 2019

Hyperbaric Oxygen Chambers: What do They Treat?

Have you ever wondered why a dog may stick its head out of the window when moving in a car? While we can not ask them ourselves, scientists believe that one of the many reasons why dogs can be seen doing it is because the sense of euphoria they feel as their oxygen levels increase while sniffing this fast flying air. The same can be said when humans visit oxygen bars, which are recreational establishments that sell oxygen to patrons. While frequenting oxygen bars has been said to relieve hangovers and decrease stress, there are many procedures in the medical industry that also utilize the effects of increasing oxygen to the blood supply.

Hyperbaric oxygen chambers are used by medical professionals in hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT). The first hyperbaric oxygen chamber was created in 1662 by a physician who believed it could help with respiratory issues. However, it wasn’t approved for medical use until the 1940’s by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). This medical procedure dispenses pure oxygen to patients, either in a pressurized room or through an individual tube. During these treatments, the oxygen is increased up to 3 times higher than what is considered as normal oxygen pressure. Under these conditions, your lungs are able to gather more oxygen than normal, and once the lungs have collected this oxygen, the blood is responsible for carrying it throughout the entire body. This process helps to fight off bacteria and stimulate the release of certain substances called growth factors and stem cells, which promote healthy healing.

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Oxygen is essential to help the body function properly.

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy chambers work by increasing the amount of oxygen absorbed within the body's normal blood supply. Tissues in the body require a certain amount of oxygen to remain healthy and to function properly, and when these tissues are damaged they require more oxygen to heal and survive.

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is the main treatment for decompression illness (DCI), also known as the bends, an illness acquired by scuba divers who surface too quickly when diving down deep, a condition that can often turn fatal without proper treatment. Hyperbaric oxygen chambers work by returning the diver to the depth they were at and slowly “resurface” them to normal air pressure, alleviating the bubbles left in the body. Along with DCI, the FDA has approved the use of hyperbaric oxygen chambers to treat many other conditions.

Approved Uses for Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy

  • Bubbles of air or gas trapped in the blood vessels (an air or gas embolism)
  • Carbon monoxide poisoning
  • Cyanide poisoning
  • Gas gangrene (a form of gangrene that occurs from gas collecting in tissues)
  • Inadequate blood flow in the arteries or veins
  • Flesh eating diseases (also called necrotizing soft tissue infection)
  • Diabetic wounds that are not healing properly (such as diabetic foot ulcers)
  • Skin graft or skin flap at risk of tissue death
  • Infection in a bone (osteomyelitis)
  • Chronic infection called actinomycosis
  • Intracranial abscess (originating from an ear infection, sinus infection, or another primary source of infection)
  • Tissue damage from radiation therapy
  • Severe anemia
  • Brain Abscess
  • Wound care for burns
  • Crushing injuries
  • Sudden deafness
  • Sudden loss of hearing that is not associated with any pain

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Science has proven that oxygen is needed for the body to heal itself, and many injuries and illnesses involve the lack of oxygen rich blood, making hyperbaric oxygen chambers essential in the use of certain medical conditions and in the use of healing certain wounds.

Additional Benefits of Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy

  • Increases oxygenation to the tissues in the body
  • Increased blood flow and circulation
  • Boosts white blood cell counts
  • Enhances effectiveness of antibiotics
  • Reduces swelling and pain

The use of these oxygen rich treatments have been approved for many illnesses and injuries, but there are also conditions in which the treatment for them has yet to be approved. Many medical professionals are still conducting clinical trials based upon the effectiveness of hyperbaric oxygen chambers in treating various medical conditions. .

Conditions Not Yet FDA Approved for Treatment

  • Aids/HIV
  • Asthma
  • Lyme Disease
  • Bell's Palsy or Cerebral Palsy
  • Cancer
  • Arthritis
  • Brain Injuries
  • Cirrhosis
  • Depression
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Hepatitis
  • Migraine
  • Heart Disease
  • Stroke
  • Parkinsons
  • Many Others

While the procedure itself is considered to be painless, you may be asked to remove all clothing prior to procedure and to wear a hospital gown. Since atmospheres with increased oxygen are fire sensitive, you will be asked to refrain from bringing in any flammable items, such as lighters, and your cell phone may be held while during treatment to ensure the safety of all patients. Additionally, you may be asked to avoid using any flammable beauty products such as hairspray or perfume. If you have any questions prior to your first treatment, feel free to speak with your healthcare professional for a full list of precautions. Side effects of hyperbaric oxygen treatment are rare but they do exist and can happen when working with professionals who are inexperienced in the field.

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Hyperbaric oxygen therapy can help speed up the healing of wounds and other ailments.

Potential Side Effects of Hyperbaric Oxygen Treatmnets

  • Temporary nearsightedness (myopia) due to the temporary changes in the lenses of the eye
  • Middle ear injuries, including leakage of fluid and eardrum rupture, caused by the increase in air pressure
  • Lung collapse caused by air pressure changes (barotrauma)
  • Seizures as a result of too much oxygen (oxygen toxicity) in your central nervous system
  • In certain circumstances, fire- due to the oxygen rich environment of the treatment chamber

There are a few things to consider when thinking about undergoing hyperbaric oxygen treatment, certain coexisting conditions can have an adverse reaction to the treatment. Patients who are also suffering from other lung conditions, have a cold or a fever, have had a recent ear surgery or a recent injury, or patients who are prone to claustrophobia may want to reconsider or prolong the treatment as these can worsen the side effects. Giving a full medical history to your healthcare professional will ensure that no oversight is made when receiving treatment in a hyperbaric oxygen chamber.

Hyperbaric oxygen chambers have been around since the early 1600’s and have been a proven treatment for many diseases since its early development. When given care by an experienced professional, side effects are extremely unlikely and the full scope of its benefits have yet to be approved by the FDA but certain therapies show high promise in the treatment of various diseases.

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