by Matt Weik, BS, CSCS, CPT, CSN
Did you know what we breathe is only 21% of oxygen, the rest is made up of 78% nitrogen, and 1% is a mixture of other gasses? Have you ever thought about how beneficial it would be to our body if we could breathe much more oxygen? Well, that’s what hyperbaric oxygen therapy does.
Though hyperbaric oxygen therapy has been used for decades, it became popular in the 20th century as a treatment for scuba divers who experience decompression sickness. Since then, hyperbaric oxygen therapy has evolved as an effective treatment for various conditions.
Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only. It is not meant to treat or diagnose any condition. The information found within this article is not medical advice and should not supersede a doctor’s diagnosis and treatment plan should you have a health condition. The use of hyperbaric oxygen therapy should never be a replacement for any medication that your doctor puts you on.
What is Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy?
Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy or HBOT is a treatment that involves breathing 100% pure oxygen in a special room or pressurized small chamber. The air pressure with hyperbaric oxygen therapy is 3-4 times more than the normal atmospheric pressure. It is a painless and effective treatment for various ailments.
This controlled oxygen environment is primarily used to treat decompression sickness, which is due to a scuba diving trip gone wrong. Other than that, it is used to treat various other medical conditions like radiation injuries, serious infections, bubbles of air in the blood vessels, non-healing wounds like diabetic foot ulcers, overall health and performance, and more.
The idea behind hyperbaric oxygen therapy is that injuries and wounds heal faster in an environment that delivers 100% pure oxygen with pressure more than normal.
The Benefits of Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy
Have you ever heard of or considered using hyperbaric oxygen therapy? If not, you may find the benefits to be precisely what you’re looking for.
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is a medical procedure that must be conducted under medical supervision. A few approved uses of hyperbaric oxygen therapy are as follows:
1. Decompression Illness
Decompression sickness is due to the formation of nitrogen bubbles in the blood and tissues of scuba divers. According to the US Navy 6 treatment manual, hyperbaric oxygen therapy is used to treat decompression sickness.
It is useful in treating decompression illness within 24 hours of surfacing and is used to remove the bubbles from hips, joints, lower spine, and blood vessels.
2. Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
Carbon monoxide can displace oxygen and reduce the amount of oxygen supply to the tissues. As per a study of patients suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning, hyperbaric oxygen therapy reduces the death rate and increases the lifespan.
3. Skin Ulcers
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy also helps in treating skin ulcers. As per a study, a 4-week course of hyperbaric oxygen therapy for people suffering from ulcers shows an improvement in the recovery in 80% of the patients.
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy shows a positive effect on anemia. It is known to benefit the patients who are not able to accept the blood transfusion due to religious reasons, non-availability of blood, and immunologic reasons.
Studies show that 10 sessions of hyperbaric oxygen therapy are known to relieve the symptoms of people suffering from hemorrhage.
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy increases the supply of oxygen to the areas which are suffering from burns, and this helps to speed up the recovery process.
A study shows that patients treated with hyperbaric oxygen therapy exhibited a longer lifespan and faster recovery as compared to people who just used standard therapy.
The body is constantly fighting inflammation in the body. This can come from stress, free radicals, and many other things. By utilizing hyperbaric oxygen therapy, you can help push oxygen into the cells, which can then help keep tissues and joints healthy.
7. Muscle Recovery
Athletes in the NFL, NBA, NHL, and many other athletic associations have been known to utilize hyperbaric oxygen therapy as part of their recovery protocol.
Athletes like Terrell Owens, LeBron James, Michael Phelps, Tim Tebow, and many others swear by using hyperbaric oxygen therapy after training and games. Many athletes even sleep in a hyperbaric oxygen chamber at night to speed up their recovery and prevent injuries.
The Potential Risks of Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy
According to the US Food and Drug Administration, hyperbaric oxygen therapy is generally considered to be a safety factor, and complications are rare as such. But because of increased oxygen and pressure during the treatment, there exists potential risk of:
- Ear and sinus pain
- Temporary changes in the vision
- Lung collapse in rare cases
- Middle ear injuries
Also, a few people may experience the following side effects:
- Increase in blood pressure
- Low blood sugar and more
In some cases, oxygen toxicity or poisoning can exist. Excessive oxygen can lead to convulsions and other complications. Apart from that, a high concentration of oxygen in the process poses a risk of fire, which is why the treatment by the FDA is recommended in an accredited facility.
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy chambers that do not comply with the FDA guidelines may be unfit for the treatment. It can have the following disadvantages:
- Unlikely to sustain required pressure
- No guarantee of purity of oxygen which can result in ineffective treatment
- Risk of fire and explosion, as pure oxygen is highly flammable and explosive
As per a study published in 2017, hyperbaric oxygen therapy promises wound healing and various other uses, but there is a lack of consistency in practice.
The Bottom Line
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy can help in treating various conditions. But make sure that it is done by a medical professional and in hyperbaric oxygen therapy chambers that comply with FDA regulations. Avoid going for hyperbaric oxygen therapy for unapproved uses as it may lead to long-term adverse effects.