Unless you are a scuba diver, scientist, or in the medical profession, you may never have heard of hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT). This treatment method has been around in some form or other since the 1660s, but extensive study of how it might be used for various conditions began in the 1960s and continues today.
What HBOT Is
The therapy involves simply breathing in oxygen, but with the atmospheric pressure increased to as much as three times its normal level—thus the word “hyper” (implying an increase in energy or activity) and “baric” (related to barometric pressure).
This is done in a special, pressurized room or chamber which makes it easier for your lungs to absorb the oxygen and transfer it to your blood, where it then circulates throughout your entire body.
Why Oxygen Therapy Works
All of your body tissues need oxygen to function and repair themselves when they are damaged. This is done at the cellular level. The more oxygen there is in your blood, the more there is available to the cells for regeneration. HBOT restores your blood gas levels to normal for a time, which helps to fight off bacteria and infection and promotes the release of stem cells and growth factors which are needed for healing.
You know how much better you feel and function when you take the time to breathe deeply throughout the day. This is because you are increasing your oxygen levels by taking in more air than you do with normal shallow breathing. HBOT takes that to the max with the use of pure oxygen under pressure, amplifying the effects to speed healing.
What Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy Is Used For
We mentioned divers before. HBOT came into wider use in the 1930s when the US military developed and tested its use in deep sea diving and aeronautics. It is commonly used to treat decompression sickness. However, over the years it has also come to be recognized as an effective treatment for medical conditions as well, such as:
- severe anemia
- air bubbles in your blood
- sudden deafness or loss of vision
- carbon monoxide poisoning
- “crush” injuries and burns
- diseases, skin grafts or infections that cause tissue death
- non-healing diabetic wounds
Study is still ongoing into its effectiveness for a variety of other conditions, from AIDS/HIV and arthritis to Parkinson’s disease and stroke.
What to Expect During an HBOT Treatment
If we prescribe this therapy for you, you will go either to a hospital outpatient unit or an HBOT facility. We pride ourselves on having referral access to effective technology and knowing how to use it. The treatment may be administered in a pressurized room along with others, or in a 1-person unit in an offsite facility (a bed in a plastic, tube chamber).
Because of the increased air pressure, you may feel a fullness in your ears similar to what you experience in higher altitudes or when flying. It can usually be relieved as you would in those situations by swallowing, yawning, chewing gum, etc.
HBOT is generally safe, but there is some risk of middle ear damage, temporary near-sightedness, lung collapse or seizures. We will discuss these with you, and you will be monitored during the entire treatment, which typically lasts around two hours. Afterwards, you can resume normal activities, although you may feel tired or hungry.