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Hyperbaric oxygen therapy and its benefits on wound treatment

Posted at 2:07 PM, Jun 09, 2016
and last updated 2016-06-09 16:13:02-04

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy and its benefits on wound treatment 

Hyperbaric oxygen is simply breathing oxygen in a high-pressure environment. It involves having the patient lay on a hospital-type bed or gurney, rolling them into a large clear cylinder, and adding pressure with 100% oxygen for them to breathe. The pressure reached is the equivalent of 30-40 feet under the ocean. Each treatment lasts about 90 minutes, and most people either sleep or watch a movie to pass the time.

How does it work?

Air molecules are very far apart from one another at altitude (like Utah for example), and close together at sea level. They become even closer together below sea level, resulting in high concentrations of oxygen entering the lungs with each breath. If we then have the patient breath only oxygen at that pressure, not only is every red blood cell saturated but oxygen actually becomes dissolved in the plasma.  This supplies oxygen to tissues where even red blood cells cannot go.

What do you treat with hyperbaric oxygen?

There are 15 Medicare-approved conditions. It is the primary therapy for:

  • Decompression illness or “the bends”
  • Carbon monoxide poisoning

It is a secondary or supporting therapy for the other conditions.

These include:

  • Delayed effects of radiation therapy
  • Refractory diabetic foot ulcers with bone exposed
  • Chronic refractory osteomyelitis or a “bone infection”
  • Compromised skin flaps and grafts, and other arterial insufficiencies
  • Necrotizing infections like “flesh-eating” bacteria
  • Brain abscesses
  • Certain types of hearing and vision loss

What is the most common condition you treat?

The most common conditions we treat are late effects of radiation therapy. Techniques for radiation therapy are better than they once were, so people who underwent radiation treatment years to decades ago will present with tissue damage in those irradiated areas. This may include bleeding from colon, prostate or bladder irradiation. It may be non-healing wounds on the skin, jaw or mouth, or even breast pain related to radiation. Also, having surgery in any area with previous radiation therapy is risky, but can be pre-treated with hyperbaric oxygen to prevent complications as well.

Therapeutic effects of hyperbaric oxygen therapy:

  • Depends on the indication but generally speaking it:
    • Improves function of white blood cells to fight infection
    • Revitalizes tissues that receive poor blood flow
    • Stimulates growth of new blood vessels termed “angiogenesis”
    • Mobilizes stem cells from bone marrow to wound sites
    • Suppresses inflammatory mediators in irradiated tissues.

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