Hyperbaric Oxygen Essentials
What is hyperbaric oxygen therapy?
Hyperbaric oxygen treatment (HBOT) is defined as the use of an oxygen-rich environment at higher than ambient pressures to treat various injuries and illnesses. To accomplish this, patients are placed inside air-tight chambers and a medical grade air compressor pumps air into the chamber to increase the local pressure within the chamber, while a medical grade oxygen concentrator simultaneously increases the local concentration of oxygen. The combination of high pressure and high oxygen concentration leads to multiple physiological benefits, both at the cellular and tissue levels.
What can all HBOT do?
Due to the systemic effects that HBOT has on both cells and tissues, HBOT has become an essential tool in the treatment of:
Traumatic brain injuries
Stroke and brain aneurysm
Carbon monoxide poisoning
Complex regional pain syndrome
Anoxic brain injuries
How does it work?
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy systemically increases oxygen levels throughout the body. It does this by more completely saturating the blood with essential oxygen. Not only do all the cells in your body need enough oxygen to function properly and do their jobs efficiently, but the higher concentration of oxygen can function as a drug and a cell signal molecule. The O2 molecule acts as an anti-inflammatory drug to significantly reduce inflammation that prevents your body from healing. Additionally, when high concentrations of oxygen interact with damaged or ischemic tissues (lacking adequate blood flow), cellular signal pathways are activated releasing molecules called growth factors. These growth factor molecules recruit special cells, called stem cells, in these areas to repair damaged tissue and create new cells. In short, HBOT gives your body what it needs to heal properly, then helps ignite and guide those processes.
How is the treatment?
Each HBOT session lasts one hour. Patients enter the hyperbaric chamber and lie on a foam pad. Once the chamber is hermetically sealed, the compressor and concentrator and the chamber are turned on pressurize. A neurotherapy technician closely monitors the chamber pressure to make sure the process is slow enough for patients to gently equalize the pressure in their ears, just as one would on an airplane. After reaching maximum pressure, patients can read, relax, or take a nap. Due to the stabilizing and regulatory effects of HBOT on metabolism, some patients heat up or cool down inside the chamber as their body's metabolism evens out, so patients often grab a blanket or ice pack, according to your needs. At the end of your session, the technician will gradually depressurize the chamber and assist the patient out of the chamber.
Is HBOT Safe?
When administered by trained people under the supervision of an experienced healthcare provider, hyperbaric oxygen therapy is very safe. The only common side effect of HBOT is barotrauma in the ears, which results from pressurization or depressurization that occurs rapidly. This can be avoided very easily by an attentive technician and by communication between the patient and the technician. If a patient's ears do not equalize, the technician can pause or reverse pressurization until the process can continue safely.
Contraindications are relatively limited and mainly include acute physiological states. These include: uncontrolled hypertension, diabetes mellitus with hypoglycemia or hyperglycemia, severe congestive heart failure, current acute respiratory infection, current fever, chronic sinus conditions, recent thoracic or eye surgery, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and certain prescription medications. Due to the lack of studies, HBOT should also be avoided during pregnancy.