Having a burn, ulcer, or stubborn wound can be a nuisance. While the body can heal itself with its self-healing mechanism, sometimes you might need a little pump, especially with severe injuries requiring lots of time to heal.
Is there a way to speed up the wound-healing process? The answer is yes, thanks to hyperbaric oxygen therapy! While this sounds like magic, the science-centric procedure utilizing pressurized oxygen has been around for over a century and is further developed to treat serious health problems like cancer.
How does hyperbaric oxygen therapy for wound healing work, and what are its benefits for patients with chronic wounds and ulcers? Discover the healing power of hyperbaric oxygen therapy in the article down below.
Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy for Wound Healing: An Inside Look at the Definition, Benefits, and Possible Side Effects
Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy Explained
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) uses 100 percent pressurized oxygen to recover quickly in healing stubborn wounds, injuries, and infections. During the non-invasive therapy, patients are enclosed in a transparent tube with the air pressure increasing 1.5 to 3 times higher than the average atmospheric pressure.
Pressurized oxygen therapy was introduced in 1662 as a cure for digestive and pulmonary conditions. Fast forward to the 1940s, the U.S. Navy began using hyperbaric oxygen treatment to stabilize nitro gas levels in blood vessels of deep-sea divers, also known as compression sickness (or the bends) caused by decreased pressures.
By the 1960s, the treatment involving inhaling pure oxygen was regularly used to treat carbon monoxide poisoning for workers in hazardous working environments like miners and firefighters.
As of writing, many scientists and researchers continue to spawn the benefits of HBOT. Their studies have discovered that hyperbaric oxygen therapy could benefit neurological conditions like brain injuries or stroke.
What Conditions and Diseases Does Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy Treat?
Today, hyperbaric oxygen therapy has gone beyond treating compression illness among divers or miners. It is now a popular painless procedure for treating a growing range of conditions with impressive success.
The therapy has been trusted as the top remedy for more than 50 conditions and diseases worldwide. In the U.S. alone, hyperbaric oxygen therapy is approved by the Food & Drug Administration for treating 14 conditions.
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy helps treat the following conditions:
- Cyanide poisoning
- Carbon monoxide poisoning
- Decompression sickness
- Crush injuries
- Severe anemia
- Gas gangrene
- Delayed radiation injury (radionecrosis)
- Compromised skin grafts and flaps
- Acute or traumatic reduced blood flow in the arteries
- Flesh-eating diseases (necrotizing fasciitis)
- Venous leg ulcer
- Severe skin or bone infections (osteomyelitis)
- Chronic diabetic wounds
- Gas or air bubbles trapped in blood vessels (arterial gas embolism)
- Hearing loss
- Vision loss
Types of Hyperbaric Oxygen Chambers
A hyperbaric chamber is a glass vessel filled with pure oxygen. There are three main types of hyperbaric chambers available, as follows:
- Soft chambers: Soft chambers, or mild HBOT, are portable chambers made of an elastic plastic material called TPU. Users can inflate chambers to specific sizes and adjust the pressure levels according to their preferences. This type of hyperbaric chamber is appropriate for home use. Since the pressure level is around 1.3 ATA, soft-side hyperbaric chambers are primarily administered for divers and mountain climbers due to their lightweight nature, not for medical treatment.
- Monoplace chambers: Monoplace chambers are the most common type of hyperbaric chamber used to treat a host of medical and insurance-approved conditions. Much like its name, monoplace chambers are built for one person and resemble an MRI machine due to their unique tube shape. The internal pressure level inside the monoplace chamber can reach between 2 and 3 ATA.
- Multiplace chambers: Multiplace chambers are designed for treating all HBOT indications for large groups of patients. It is a room made of steel and can accommodate multiple patients at the same time where they inhale high-concentration oxygen through special masks or hyperbaric hoods. Steel hyperbaric rooms are intended for extensive care regarding HBOT indications. They can be primarily found in diving destinations, tertiary care centers, and trauma centers. During treatment, a technician is inside the chamber to assist the patients.
Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy For Wound Healing: How Does It Work?
We all know that oxygen fuels most living things on Earth and helps them survive. Organisms depend on oxygen to grow, produce, and generate energy, while plants and animals require oxygen for cellular respiration. For humans, when oxygen is consumed through noses and mouths into the lungs, the blood circulatory system delivers oxygen to all organs and cells in the body while sending off carbon dioxide.
When distributed throughout the body, oxygen plays a significant role in numerous bodily functions, from stimulating brain activity, raising energy levels, and increasing memory capacity to improving strength and endurance, strengthening the immune system, and detoxing your blood.
Despite being catered to treating 14 FDA-approved conditions and more conditions in different countries, the most praised benefit of hyperbaric oxygen therapy is its potent ability to tackle non-healing and persistent wounds.
How does hyperbaric oxygen therapy for wound healing work? Since hyperbaric oxygen therapy involves increasing oxygen inhaled into the body, it has been proven effective for accelerating wound healing due to more significant amounts of oxygen sent to damaged tissues.
In essence, pressurized oxygen contributes to several biological processes crucial for cell restoration and integrity, such as angiogenesis, cell proliferation, and protein synthesis. All of them exhibit the following benefits in generating cells and tissues as follows:
- Enhance the activity of immune cells: Hyperbaric oxygen therapy helps enhance the activity of several cells, assisting in warding off bacteria, pathogens, and infections. This mechanism is crucial for chronic or infected wounds.
- Stimulate the development of new blood vessels: A sufficient oxygen supply is necessary to heal damaged tissues. With the ability to stimulate angiogenesis, HBOT can promote the formation of new tissues, resulting in speedy recovery.
- Boost collagen production: The skin-beneficial protein collagen helps strengthen the tissues and boost faster healing.
- Fight pathogens and bacteria: Bacteria and pathogens are known to delay wound healing and even lead to complications if no prompt interventions are taken. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy can eliminate bacteria and those resistant to antibiotics.
What Happens During a Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy Session?
Keep in mind that only healthcare professionals and physicians are authorized to prescribe hyperbaric oxygen therapy. It is best to consult a doctor to determine if this therapy is right for you.
A doctor or a physician helps develop a treatment plan aligned with your specific condition, health capacity, and particular goals. Following the assessment, they will map out a treatment plan that works best for you. A session can last from 45 minutes to 300 minutes, depending on your health evaluation.
Before each session, a technician will check for vital signs and give a safety checklist for patients to check off required action items, confirming that all jewelry and electronic devices are cleared. Once the safety check is complete, they will be provided a 100 percent cotton gown to prevent static. They are also given a bottle of water to avoid plugged ears.
In the chamber, patients can sit or lie and are required to take deep breaths. Deep breaths are crucial for distributing oxygenated blood throughout the body, assisting damaged cells and tissues in healing more quickly.
Precautions and Side Effects of Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy
Although hyperbaric oxygen therapy is non-invasive and well-tolerated, it is vital to be cautious of risks and side effects. Despite being generally safe, it is dangerous to proceed with hyperbaric oxygen therapy if you have the following conditions or issues:
- Recently had ear surgery
- Recently injured your ears
- A collapsed lung
- A lung disease increasing the risk of collapsed lungs (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, emphysema, and cystic fibrosis)
- A cold or fever
After hyperbaric oxygen therapy, it is possible to experience one of the following side effects:
- Middle ear injuries (earache, hemorrhage, eardrum rupture, effusion)
- Claustrophobia or anxiety attacks due to enclosed space
- Temporary nearsightedness
- Low blood sugar
- Sinus congestion
- Oxygen poisoning
In conjunction with the possible risks and side effects above, make sure to consult with your doctors and weigh out the pros and cons to determine if you are a good fit before giving it a try.