Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is a medical treatment that is used to treat a limited but diverse series of illnesses. It may be the primary treatment for some disorders, but it is often used as part of a combined program involving antibiotics and surgery. In order to provide patients with hyperbaric oxygen therapy, a pressurized chamber is necessary. The patient is placed within the chamber, which is then compressed to the level ordered by the consulting hyperbaric physician, using pure oxygen.
Hyperbaric oxygen is a simple concept. The air we breathe contains 21% oxygen. Providing 100% oxygen by face mask without the use of a chamber has certain, limited, benefits. By providing pure oxygen in a pressurized chamber we are able to deliver 2-3 times that which can be provided by breathing 100% oxygen with no increase in pressure. This “hyperbaric” (or high pressure) dose of oxygen offers distinct therapeutic benefits.
Oxygen, when delivered to a patient in a hyperbaric chamber, greatly increases the amount of oxygen that can be delivered to body tissues by the blood. All of the benefits provided by hyperbaric oxygen therapy are the result of this extra oxygen being carried within the bloodstream. Depending upon the reason for your referral to the Hyperbaric Medicine Service, hyperbaric oxygen will be used to provide you with one or more of the following effects:
• Increased oxygen delivery to the injured tissue
• Greater blood vessel formation
• Advanced wound healing
• Improved infection control
• Preservation of damaged tissues
• Elimination of toxic substances
• Reduced effects from toxic substances
• Reduction or elimination of tissue obstruction by gas bubbles
The above effects may occur with only one or two treatments. However, it may be necessary to undergo as many as 40-50 treatments for maximum benefit. Your planned treatment course will be discussed with you in detail prior to starting therapy.
Hyperbaric oxygen treatments are normally painless. You simply lie comfortably and restfully in the chamber. You can watch TV or nap if you wish and feel no differently than if you were lying in your own bed. You may experience a sensation of fullness in your ears during certain stages of the treatment. This is similar to that which is felt while flying in an airplane or driving down a mountain as the eardrum responds to changes in pressure. As part of your introduction to the treatment, you will be taught several easy methods to avoid ear discomfort.
Generally, patients experience no aftereffects from hyperbaric oxygen therapy. However, some patients report a “crackling” in their ears between treatments. You can relieve this in the same way you cleared your ears during changes in pressure while in the chamber. If the crackling should continue, please report this to the staff. Some patients report feeling lightheaded for a few minutes following a treatment, but this is brief and the patients are able to continue with their normal daily activities. Like all medical treatments and procedures, some risks are associated with hyperbaric oxygen therapy. These risks are quite rare and they will be discussed with you before you sign your consent form for therapy.
The number of treatments is individualized to each patient. Some emergency treatments will only require one or two treatments. Most wound healing problems may require 30-40 treatments. For outpatients we will normally provide once a day treatments for five or six days of each week. Your planned initial courses of therapy will be discussed with you by the hyperbaric medicine team, before you start. The exact number of treatments will be determined by your response to hyperbaric oxygen therapy and you will be advised by the hyperbaric team as this information becomes available.
After referral by your doctor and evaluation by a hyperbaric medicine specialist you will be given detailed instructions. You will be asked not to wear the following materials while in the chamber: hair oils, hair spray, perfumes, make-up, nylons (panty hose), ointments, liniments, petroleum or Vaseline products, wigs or hair pieces, aftershave, synthetics (i.e. rayon, nylon, etc.), or salves. Watches should not be worn in the chamber because they may break under the increased pressure.
Because the therapy involves 100 percent oxygen, any form of smoking material, lighters or matches are STRICTLY prohibited in the chamber and should not be used for at least an hour after treatment. Books, magazines, and writing pads may be allowed in a multi-person chamber; newspapers and loose papers should not be taken in. Anything not specifically allowed in the chamber must not be taken in under any circumstances.
There are a number of preparations that are necessary before starting each treatment, and these will be discussed with you in detail by the hyperbaric medicine team. The following information summarizes these preparations:
SMOKING: Since tobacco products constrict blood vessels and limit the amount of blood and oxygen that can be delivered to tissues you should not use tobacco products during your course of treatment.
MEDICATIONS: It is very important that you provide the hyperbaric medicine team with a complete list of medications, including nonprescription drugs, that you are taking. Some medications change the body’s response to oxygen and these will be discussed with you individually.
ILLNESS: If you experience the symptoms of a cold or the flu, such as fever, cough, sore throat, nausea, vomiting, headache, diarrhea, or generalized body-aches, please notify a hyperbaric staff member as soon as possible. These symptoms may require a temporary delay in your treatment schedule. When your symptoms resolve, treatments may be resumed.