About Hyperbaric Medicine
What is hyperbaric oxygen therapy?
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy (also known as hyperbarics or HBO2 therapy) provides additional oxygen to a patient’s body tissues to jump-start or to expedite the healing process. This is accomplished in a chamber pressurized with compressed air. Breathing 100% oxygen to supersaturate the patient’s body helps to heal infected, injured, or compromised areas. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy can be used as the primary treatment or as adjunctive treatments to other forms of traditional treatment modalities, such as surgery or antibiotic therapy.
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is widely recognized by the medical community as a highly effective modality of rehabilitative therapy. It is covered under most major insurance plans, as well as Medicare, Tricare, Workers Compensation, State Merit, and other payment programs.
A word diagram of the phrase hyperbaric oxygen helps clarify the treatment’s meaning:
How does hyperbaric oxygen therapy work?
Under normal atmospheric conditions, the air we breathe is composed of 21% oxygen and 79% nitrogen. During hyperbaric oxygen therapy, those conditions are altered. The barometric pressure can be increased up to three times normal atmospheric pressure, while the air is changed to 100% oxygen.
The increased chamber pressure and pure oxygen breathed by the patient combine to greatly increase the oxygen-carrying capacity of the patient’s blood. Essentially, the blood becomes supersaturated with oxygen and the supply of life-giving oxygen to the tissues increases significantly. This boost of oxygen stimulates and accelerates the body’s natural healing process.
What is a hyperbaric chamber?
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is delivered through treatment sessions, or “dives,” in a pressurized vessel known as a hyperbaric chamber. HyOx uses multi-patient chambers at its Atlanta hyperbaric oxygen therapy medical treatment centers. Regardless of their specific configuration, hyperbaric chambers are designed to safely create a pressurized environment (equivalent to 2-3 times the pressure of air at sea level) for the patient. Despite this similarity, there are differences among hyperbaric chambers. The major differences are in the manner in which oxygen is delivered to the patient and the comforts associated with each chamber.
Monoplace chambers treat one patient at a time. Patients typically must lie flat in one position during the treatment. Usually, the chamber is pressurized with 100% oxygen which the patient breathes directly.
HyOx Multi-patient chambers can accommodate up to 12 patients at the same time. Patients either sit in “airline-style” seats or lay on a stretcher if warranted by their condition. The chamber is pressurized with compressed air and patients breathe oxygen through specially-designed hoods, face masks or endotracheal tubes. Since they are not in a confined space, patients are free to stand, move about and stretch during the treatment. In case of a medical emergency, hands-on treatment is provided instantaneously, without the decompression wait time associated with monoplace single-patient chambers.
HyOx operates Georgia’s largest multi-patient hyperbaric chambers. HyOx’s chambers are 31 feet in length and 9 feet in diameter. The chambers can comfortably accommodate 12 sitting patients plus attendants, who remain with patients throughout the treatment. During treatment, patients can read, listen to music, or watch videos on the chamber’s entertainment system. Medications, beverages, snacks, and a private restroom are available at all times during treatment in HyOx’s multi-patient hyperbaric chambers. Engineered and manufactured by Gulf Coast Hyperbarics, a Florida firm whose clients include NASA’s Johnson Space Center, HyOx’s chambers are made with the same materials used in the construction of high-pressure oil pipelines.
Used as an adjunctive therapy, hyperbaric oxygen therapy can:
- Accelerate healing of chronic wounds by increasing the amount of oxygen carried by the blood to wounded, injured, and diseased areas
- Help fight infection and increase the effectiveness of certain antibiotics
- Encourage growth of new blood vessels in hypoxic (low oxygen despite adequate blood supply) tissue
- Decrease the risk of complications prior to and following certain surgeries
- Speed the recovery of soft tissues and bones affected by radiation therapy
- Reduce the incidence of amputation in diabetic patients with lower extremity wounds
Are there side effects to hyperbaric oxygen?
The medical textbook Hyperbaric Medicine Practice states that “of all the medical treatments carried out in hospitals, hyperbaric oxygen therapy is one of the most benign when it comes to side effects. The contraindications are relatively few.”
The most common side effect that may occur is middle ear barotraumas. Clearing the ears during compression minimizes the risk of barotraumas to the ears and sinuses. Although rare, other side effects may include oxygen toxicity (poisoning), claustrophobia, temporary changes in sight, and accelerated maturation of cataracts.
The following conditions and medications may not be compatible with hyperbaric treatments:
- Untreated pneumothorax – free air in the chest, outside the lung, that requires aspiration of the free air and/or placement of a chest tube to evacuate the air
- Congenital spherocytosis – a genetic disorder of the red blood cell membrane characterized by anemia, jaundice (yellowing), and splenomegaly (enlargement of the spleen)
- Disulfiram (Antabuse®) – an oral tablet used to treat chronic alcoholism
- Doxorubicin (Adriamycin®) – a medication used in cancer chemotherapy
- Cis-Platinum – a chemotherapy agent most often used to treat lung cancer
- Mafenide Acetate (Sulfamylon®) – a topical cream used to prevent and treat bacterial or fungal infections (primarily from burns)
What are the results of hyperbaric oxygen therapy?
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy promotes the growth of new capillaries (neovascularization), fibroblast proliferation, and collagen and new tissue development. In addition, white blood cell bactericidal activity at the wound site is elevated. High blood oxygen levels work synergistically with antibiotics to inhibit the growth of a number of anaerobic and aerobic organisms at the wound site. The pressurized oxygen saturates hypoxic areas of the body. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy increases diffusion of oxygen through ischemic tissues with inadequate microcirculation by providing sufficient oxygen tensions to meet the metabolic needs and heal tissues. The treatment also causes constriction of the blood vessels, decreasing intra-cranial pressure and edema in injured tissues while still increasing the total amount of oxygen to the injured area. The elevated air pressure leads to a 10- to 15-fold increase in plasma and tissue oxygen levels.
As with all medical treatments, results of hyperbaric oxygen therapy vary from patient to patient depending on the severity and duration of the condition. Results also can depend on whether hyperbaric oxygen therapy is used as a primary treatment or as an adjunctive treatment to surgery or antibiotics.
Results also depend on the patient’s commitment to attend all consecutive treatment sessions. As with all therapies, there are no immediate results. The number of prescribed treatments is evidence-based and must be completed for the best clinical outcome.
For more specific information about the clinical-based results of your specific condition, contact HyOx at 678-303-3200, fill out the form on our Contact Us page, or consult with HyOx’s board-certified physicians during your initial consultation.