For nearly half a century, hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) has found a unique place in modern medicine. While it’s used for a wide variety of medical conditions, hyperbaric oxygen therapy has sparked debate in the medical community. HBOT has pervaded popular culture with celebrities swearing by its benefits as a modern-day fountain of youth that can ensure eternal vigor. With such ubiquitousness of information, however, comes the backswing of misinformation. Such misinformation can alienate those who might genuinely benefit from medically applied hyperbaric oxygen therapy. We understand there are many unanswered questions about HBOT medical benefits, so let us now take a moment to better explain hyperbaric oxygen therapy.
WHAT IS HBOT?
By definition, it is the medical use of oxygen at an ambient pressure higher than atmospheric pressure (hyperbaric meaning “high pressure”). This treatment requires a pressure chamber, the application of 100% oxygen, and a trained medical professional to monitor the patient and make adjustments as necessary.
The patient enters the pressure chamber and is given an oxygen mask to wear. During the treatment, 100% oxygen will be delivered to the patient in the chamber. All the patient has to do is sit back and relax. The treatment may be as brief as thirty minutes, or as long as two hours depending upon the purpose of the treatment.
Our body’s tissues need a sufficient amount of oxygen to function. When tissue is damaged, it requires even more oxygen to revive. Likewise, conditions such as cancer, autoimmune disorders of the gut, etc. thrive in an anaerobic environment. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy increases the amount of oxygen in our red blood cells as well as the perfusion index, which improves the exchange of oxygen into our tissues. An increase in blood oxygen improves tissue function to fight infection and promote healing.
According to Dr. Ralph DeStephano of Chicago Neuro, a clinician who provides HBOT, in the normal environmental pressure of the outside world, you’re breathing about 21% oxygen. If you give somebody supplemental oxygen, it only increases to about 25% because the pressure of the outside world is not great enough to increase oxygen saturation or perfusion.
“Just because you’re breathing 100% oxygen doesn’t mean 100% goes into your tissues,” he explains, “because the pressure on the outside world is a 1:1 difference, so you can’t get it in your tissues much faster. It helps a little bit but nothing great.”
“When you go into the hyperbaric tank and you increase the pressure,” he continues, “you can now take that same oxygen you’re giving to somebody and perfuse it into their tissues faster and more efficiently. So, if someone is at 1.3 atmospheres, you can take their oxygen perfusion rate up to about 50%. At about 2.2 atmospheres, you can take it up to about 300%.”
WHAT ARE THE PRIMARY APPLICATIONS OF HBOT?
According to a publication in the US National Library of Medicine, there is strong scientific evidence to support the therapeutic use of hyperbaric oxygen therapy in the treatment of decompression sickness, severe carbon monoxide poisoning, and smoke inhalation. HBOT has also proven to be effective in the treatment of skin graft healing and conditions of bone death such as osteoradionecrosis and clostridial myonecrosis.
Furthermore, there is suggestive scientific evidence that supports the use of hyperbaric oxygen therapy as supplemental treatment of refractory osteomyelitis, radiation induced injury, anaerobic infection, acute traumatic ischemic injury, prolonged failure of wound healing, and anemia from blood loss.
In addition, recent research examines the value of hyperbaric oxygen therapy to the field of functional neurology.
When asked how hyperbaric oxygen therapy is so effective on such a diverse scale, Dr. DeStephano explains it very directly, “Oxygen is pretty much your fuel. We would all be in agreement that if we had more oxygen we would feel and function a lot better.”
“Anything you can do to increase that oxygen into your tissues, whether it’s your brain, your muscles, or any organ, oxygen is the fuel. So this type of oxygen therapy really is a significant way to get oxygen into these damaged tissues.”
IS HBOT RIGHT FOR ME?
In most cases, the side effects of hyperbaric oxygen therapy are mild and very rare. Consulting with our team of doctors will help determine whether HBOT is right for you.
There are certain contraindications for HBOT include pneumothorax (collapsed lung), subdural or intercranial hematomas, and pregnancy. There are other conditions that require specifications to the treatment protocol, so it is important to relay any pre-existing conditions to your doctor before treatment.
Overall, hyperbaric oxygen therapy is a completely safe and extremely beneficial mechanism of therapy for many conditions.
HOW DOES HBOT WORK?
“What works for one individual doesn’t always work for another individual,” Dr. DeStephano informs. “There are multiple variables for going into the chamber, such as pressure. There are different protocols for different types of conditions. Usually someone who is more chronic in nature, you would use a low and slow kind of approach with lower pressure for shorter periods of time. If someone is more acute (like someone who has a burn or someone who has his having surgery), you would want to use higher pressure and longer periods of time. Time and giving supplemental oxygen are other variables. I would say 40 to 60 hours in the tank with supplemental oxygen would be a good average for most conditions.”
HOW CAN I BEGIN?
As with any medical treatment, information and medical consultation are essential. Make certain that when seeking hyperbaric oxygen therapy, that the provider is medically trained and certified. Make an appointment for your consultation.