Hyperbaric medicine, also known as hyperbaric oxygen chamber therapy or just hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT), uses high concentrations of oxygen in order to treat various injuries and illnesses. Although you may have heard of doctors using hyperbaric oxygen chambers to treat decompression sickness, there have been an increasing number of applications discovered in recent years. Here are answers to the three most common questions about HBOT:
- How Does Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy Work?
Hyperbaric oxygen chambers are used to place patients in a pressurized environment filled with pure oxygen (the air we normally breathe is comprised of about 21% oxygen). Because the air pressure is elevated to about three times above normal levels, your lungs are able to take in this high oxygen concentration, and your blood can carry more oxygen throughout your body.
Since oxygen is fundamental to the body’s healing processes, HBOT can speed healing and recovery times for certain kinds of sickness or injury. Hyperbaric oxygen chambers are traditionally hard-sided, but there are also flexible chambers that can be used when portability is needed to allow for treatment.
- What Are the Benefits of Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy?
Your doctor may want you to try hyperbaric oxygen treatments if you have decompression sickness, arterial embolisms (air bubbles in your blood vessels), carbon monoxide poisoning, radiation sickness, severe anemia, new skin grafts, severe burns, gangrene or skin and bone infections, or a wound that won’t heal normally. There’s some evidence that HBOT can also treat allergies, arthritis and neurological conditions, but more research needs to be performed in these areas.
HBOT can also provide a safe treatment for chronic pain disorders that are not fully understood. These include reflex sympathetic dystrophy and possibly fibromyalgia.
- Is Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy Safe?
HBOT is FDA approved, and there are generally few side effects and contraindications. It’s possible to experience temporary myopia (nearsightedness), eardrum rupture and other ear injuries, organ damage and seizures due to oxygen toxicity, but these are all rare reactions. You cannot undergo HBOT while you’re taking certain drugs used in chemotherapy or fighting infections.
In addition, certain conditions should be carefully weighed by your doctor before you try HBOT. Cardiac disease, COPD or emphysema, respiratory infections, and previous thoracic surgeries can all increase the risk of complications.
Do you have any other questions about HBOT and what it can be used to treat? Ask your questions or add your thoughts in the comments.