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Alternative & Holistic Therapies

Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy

“There is [also] a growing host of "elective" indications for which hyperbaric oxygen has been found to be effective including rapid recovery from cosmetic surgery, laser skin procedures and dental implants.” Dr. Edward G. Johnson  - Patient Guide to Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy

History of Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy

The term hyperbaric means “relating to pressures higher than normal atmospheric pressure.” Variations in atmospheric pressure have been used in healing since 1600, beginning with the use of a simple set of organ bellows. In 1877, a French surgeon named Fontaine developed the first portable chamber in which he raised the atmospheric pressure in order to increase the flow of oxygen throughout a patient’s blood stream while administering nitrous oxide anesthesia. This prevented blood oxygen levels from decreasing too much, as often happened during surgical anesthesia at this time.

By the early 1900s Dr. Orval J. Cunningham had successfully treated a patient, who was suffering from a serious case of influenza, with hyperbaric oxygen therapy. The success inspired him to develop a cylindrical hyperbaric chamber which was subsequently used to treat many other conditions.

Although studies in the 1930s showed how important oxygen was for treating decompression sickness, it wasn’t until thirty years later that equipment was developed that would be able to administer such therapy safely.

During the 1970s hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) became less popular as other advanced therapies became available. Its reputation was further damaged by unprofessional practitioners. Despite this, today there are a number of respectable practices throughout the country and there have also been a number of peer reviewed studies on its uses. Some insurance programs in the United States now cover hyperbaric oxygen therapy and general standards for practice are in place. In 2000, the American Board of Medical Specialties gave their approval to hyperbaric medicine as a subcategory of both preventative and emergency medicine.

How Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy Works

The earth’s atmosphere exerts 14.7 pounds per square inch of pressure at sea level. We are accustomed to breathing 80 percent nitrogen and 20 percent oxygen in out atmosphere. During HBOT the pressure is increased to at least twice the normal reading and the patient not only breathes 100 percent oxygen but is also bathed in oxygen. The increased pressure combined with the high oxygen intake means that the oxygen content dissolved in the blood is up to 20 times greater than normal.  

Functions of Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy

Healing cannot take place in the body unless there are sufficient levels of oxygen in the tissues. Even when symptoms may be reduced, many illnesses can linger at the cellular level. If oxygen levels are low, insufficient oxygen will circulate throughout the body. This means that wounds will not heal and circulatory problems will not improve. However, hyperbaric oxygen therapy is able to help with these problems by providing the extra oxygen necessary and at the same time, producing minimal side effects. Experts claim that hyperbaric oxygen therapy can greatly reduce symptoms and improve the patient’s quality of life when traditional medical applications are not working. HBOT can be used to treat conditions including:

  • Stroke
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Chronic fatigue syndrome
  • Head trauma injuries
  • Decompression sickness
  • Flesh wounds
  • Radiation sickness
  • Fybromyalgia
  • Allergies
  • Arthritis

HBOT may also be beneficial for

  • Breaking down and eliminating complex toxins
  • Killing bacteria and fighting infections
  • Promoting blood vessel formation
  • Promoting cellular activity and reproduction
  • Promoting new tissue growth
  • Reducing pain due to swelling

A typical Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy Treatment

There are two types of HBOT procedure. Once is known as monoplace treatment, this is HBOT for just one person and is performed in a small, individual chamber. The other is known as multiplace treatment and is performed in a larger chamber which can incorporate ten or more people at one time. In either situation, a typical treatment session lasts for around 30 minutes to 2 hours.

Monoplace Oxygen Therapy Treatment

For a monoplace treatment session, the patient lays on a padded table which is inserted into a hyperbaric chamber that is usually around seven feet long. Pure oxygen is then applied to the chamber and the pressure is gradually increased to around 2.5 times the normal atmospheric pressure. The patient is instructed to relax and breathe evenly throughout the treatment. If any discomfort is felt, the technician will reduce the pressure slightly. When the session is complete, the pressure inside the chamber is slowly decreased.

Multiplace Oxygen Therapy Treatment

Inside a multiplace hyperbaric chamber each patient is provided with a fitted hood through which pure oxygen is supplied. A nurse will monitor each patient's progress throughout the procedure. The pressure inside the chamber is gradually increased to up to 4 times the normal atmospheric pressure. Patients may also choose to have other gases administered through the hood such as nitrogen or helium. At the end of the session the pressure is gradually lowered.

How to Find a Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy Specialist

If you are looking for a practitioner of HBOT call the International Oxidative Medical Association- 800-235-4788 or the International Hyperbarics Association, Inc.

Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy and Medicare

A number of conditions are now covered by Medicare health insurance. These include:

  • Decompression illness
  • Crush injuries
  • Preparation of skin grafts
  • Cyanide poisoning
  • Tissue damage due to radiation
  • Carbon monoxide poisoning
  • Gas embolism

Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy Precautions

There are a number of side effects which may occur due to HBOT. These include:

  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Claustrophobia
  • Oxygen toxicity
  • Myopia
  • Seizures

It is not recommended that you undergo HBOT is you suffer from severe congestive heart failure, lung disease or if you are pregnant.

Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy FAQs

Is HBOT safe?

HBOT procedures are prescribed by qualified physicians and performed under rigorous medical supervision. Although, like many treatments there are risks of minor side effects, overall HBOT has been shown to be very safe and effective.

What does HBOT feel like?

At the outset of the treatment, some patients describe a sensation similar to that experienced when taking off or landing in an airplane. The feeling of a little pressure in the ears is not uncommon and as the pressure is released, the ears may “pop.” Patients generally find the treatment relaxing and many choose to sleep, read or listen to music during the procedure.

How long will an HBOT treatment last?

Most HBOT treatments usually last around two hours, though for serious conditions such as carbon monoxide poisoning the treatment may last as long as four hours.

How many HBOT treatments will I need?

Your physician will determine how many treatments you need as well as the pressure level and the length of the treatments. The way your body responds to the therapy will also determine the length of treatment.

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