Hyperbaric oxygen therapy has been used in medicine since the early 1800s. The first known hyperbaric chamber was built in 1662 by a physician named Henshaw. He used a sealed room with bellows and valves in an attempt to treat respiratory diseases. Best known as a treatment for decompression sickness (the “bends” sometimes seen in divers), Hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) is currently used to treat certain non-healing wounds, carbon monoxide and cyanide poisoning, radiation injuries, burns, severe anemia, and many more conditions where tissues suffer due to decreased oxygen levels.
All tissues in the body need oxygen to survive, injured tissues need increased levels of oxygen. HBOT is the administration of 100% oxygen at two or three times normal atmospheric pressure in a sealed compartment or room. Under these conditions, more oxygen in the lungs is transferred to the blood and subsequently to the tissues.
Non-healing diabetic and vascular insufficiency (poor circulation) wounds, especially foot ulcers, can benefit from HBOT. When it is combined with appropriate wound care, studies have shown an increase in wound healing and limb salvage.
HBOT is effective in treating other types of wounds and injuries where oxygen supply to tissues is an issue, such as crush injuries, traumatic wounds, thermal burns, certain infections, and compartment syndrome. In injuries where there is the danger of delayed tissue damage or death, increased oxygenation may prevent it.
Although there are no controlled studies on treatment of frostbite with HBOT, case studies show some tissue recovery and fewer amputations.
Radiotherapy and certain anti-osteoporosis drugs can cause necrosis (death) of the jaw bone. HBOT has been shown to stimulate the formation of new blood vessels, and bone growth and mineralization producing better outcomes.
Pre-treatment of patients before elective heart bypass graft surgery can result in improved heart function, shorter ICU stays, and fewer post-surgical complications.
These are some of the current uses of hyperbaric oxygen therapy. While further study is needed, HBOT has shown promise in pain management of fibromyalgia, complex regional pain syndrome, and other chronic pain syndromes. HBOT reduces oxidative stress and has anti-inflammatory effects. It has also been shown to mobilizes stem cells from human bone marrow, which may improve recovery in certain neurodegenerative diseases.
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is a valuable tool in preventing loss of limbs and recovery of function. If you are suffering from any of the conditions mentioned, ask your doctor if this might be the therapy for you.
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