Normally, oxygen is almost exclusively carried by red blood cells. During HBO therapy, there is a substantial increase in the amount of oxygen carried in all body fluids including plasma, cerebrospinal fluid, lymph, and intracellular fluids. This allows increased oxygen levels even in areas with poor or compromised blood supply as well as in areas of tissue damage. Increasing tissue oxygen levels produces several important long term therapeutic benefits including enhanced growth of new blood vessels, increased ability of white blood cells to destroy bacteria and remove toxins, increase growth of fibroblasts (cells involved in wound healing), and enhanced metabolic activity of previously marginally functioning cells including brain neurons.
Patients receiving hyperbaric oxygen therapy enter a 2-person clear acrylic chamber where they breathe 100% oxygen delivered to the chamber under increased atmospheric pressure. During the treatments, which typically last 1 to 2 hours, patients relax, watch television, or sleep while they are carefully monitored by highly trained technicians with whom they can communicate easily through an intercom system. Hyperbaric oxygen treatments are safe and painless, although approximately 5% of patients (typically those who report ear pain with flying) may experience mild ear discomfort.
Who Can Benefit from Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy?
Because of the wide range of clinical conditions responding favorably to hyperbaric oxygen therapy, it is now being used worldwide in the clinical setting. There are over 350 hyperbaric centers in the United States alone. Some of the medical conditions for which hyperbaric oxygen therapy is helpful include air embolism, decompression illness, burns, carbon monoxide poisoning, cerebral edema (brain swelling), closed head injuries, sickle cell anemia, gangrene, near drowning, severed limbs, smoke inhalation, spinal cord injury, organic brain syndrome, stroke, coma, multiple sclerosis, hearing loss, peripheral neuropathy, radiation myelitis, crush injuries, soft tissue injuries, osteomyelitis (both acute and chronic), non-healing fractures, tendon and ligament injuries, delayed wound healing, soft tissue ulcers from arterial or venous insufficiency, decubitous ulcers, frostbite, diabetic retinopathy, migraine headache, cluster headache, myocardial infarction, chronic fatigue, post-polio syndrome, Crohn’s disease, Bell’s palsy, Lyme disease, Meniere’s disease, reflex sympathetic dystrophy, and osteoradionecrosis (bone degeneration after radiation exposure).
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