Hyperbaric oxygen therapy, also known as HBOT, is a medical treatment which involves the inhalation of 100% oxygen in a pressurized room or tube. These rooms are called total body chambers, and what is special about them is that the atmospheric pressure inside them is increased and controlled by a professional.
Naturally, oxygen is transported in our bodies through red blood cells, but with hyperbaric oxygen therapy, oxygen is dispersed into all of the bodily fluids such as plasma, the lymph, the central nervous system fluids, and the bone, and is generally transported to all of the areas of the body where the circulation is bad or blocked. When this happens, oxygen can reach all the places it normally wouldn’t so easily and promote the healing process, promoting the likelihood of bacteria being killed by white blood cells, reducing the swelling, and enhance the growth of new blood vessels in the injured or affected the area. This treatment is completely painless and non-invasive.
Why is HBOT Done?
When the tissue is injured, it needs more oxygen in order to heal and survive. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is used to treat a great number of medical issues and can be done in various ways. If you suffer from the following conditions, hyperbaric oxygen therapy may be suggested to you: brain abscess, carbon monoxide poisoning, severe anemia, gangrene, sudden sensorineural hearing loss, burns, sudden vision loss, radiation injury, arterial gas embolism, decompression sickness, infection that causes tissue death, nonhealing wounds, crushing injury, and skin graft at risk of death of tissue.
Additionally, there has not been enough evidence, but hyperbaric oxygen therapy may be useful in the treatment of the following: allergies, cancer, fibromyalgia, AIDS, depression, heart disease, autism, heat stroke, asthma, hepatitis, multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s disease, autism, Parkinson’s disease, Bell’s palsy, stroke, cerebral palsy, migraine, chronic fatigue syndrome, sports injuries, spinal cord injuries, cirrhosis, and brain injuries.
Research and Evidence
Regarding the chronic ulcers, hyperbaric oxygen therapy used for diabetic foot ulcers has increased the likelihood of healing the ulcers faster, but there is no evidence that would suggest that this therapy can have any long-term benefits to the patients. Some evidence shows that there was no difference in the rate of amputations of patients who have utilized HBOT versus those who have not. AS radiation injury goes, there is some evidence that this therapy can have a positive effect on late radiation tissue injury of soft tissues of the neck and the head, as well as the bones. What is important to note that no effects have been marked on the patients with damage to neurological tissues.
There is provisional evidence for hyperbaric oxygen therapy in stroke, multiple sclerosis, or traumatic brain injury. A study conducted in 2007 showed no difference in patients who have received HBOT therapy for cerebral palsy in comparison to the control group. Children who have received this therapy experienced seizures and needed tympanostomy tubes, used to equalize the ear pressure, although it has not yet been proven that HBOT is to blame. Finally, hyperbaric oxygen therapy has been promoted as an option for treating cancer, but always in the realm of alternative medicine, since there is no evidence that would support the use of this treatment.
How it Works
The process of hyperbaric oxygen therapy is quite straightforward, but still needs a little bit of an explanation to the non-professionals. What is required equipment-wise is a pressure chamber which could be made to be rigid of flexible and also requires a means of distributing 100% oxygen to the chamber. Since oxygen is used for medical purposes here, trained personnel is needed to administer the therapy and monitor the patient. These professionals will also adjust the pressure and the schedule according to the individual needs of each patient.
When talking about hyperbaric chambers, they are traditionally made as rigid shelled pressure vessels. They are typically used at an absolute pressure of about six bars, or more if needed in special cases. They can be quite small and portable, and also very large units that can treat over eight patients. These larger chambers can be used for lower pressures.
Costs of HBOT
When speaking about the costs, hyperbaric oxygen therapy can vary from case to case. In the United States, hyperbaric oxygen therapy is recognized by Medicare. A one-hour session in a private clinic can cost between $160 to $300, and over $2000 in hospitals.
In the United Kingdom, most treatments are actually financed by the National Health Service, and the fees can range between £50 and £300. In Australia, this therapy is not covered by Medicare when it comes to multiple sclerosis.
Complications and Side Effects
Since the pressure inside a hyperbaric chamber is high, some patients may feel slight discomfort or ear pain. One of the most common side effects is lightheadedness followed by fatigue, however, several more complicated issues may arise. Some of these complications include damage to the sinuses, damage to the lungs, a buildup of fluid or a rupture in the middle ear, and oxygen poisoning which can cause lung failure, a buildup of fluid in the lungs, or even seizure.
There are some cases where hyperbaric oxygen therapy is not applicable. If you have a fever or a cold, if you are claustrophobic, if you have a collapsed lung or a certain lung disease, and if you have recently suffered ear trauma or had ear surgery, HBOT may not be the best option for you and it is advisable to seek out other treatments.
Also, there are some precautions you can take to avoid possible side effects. Firstly, make sure you receive the treatment in a legit institution with trained staff. The staff should receive training from the Undersea and Hyperbaric Medical Society if you are from the US, and other institutions if you are receiving the treatment in another country. Always do your research before you decide to undergo this treatment and always ask for certifications.