The air you usually breathe is about 21% oxygen and 78% nitrogen.
Although nitrogen makes up the largest portion of air, it doesn’t play a role in human respiration. Your lungs don’t absorb it—you just breathe it out again.
It’s the oxygen in the air that’s essential for survival. All of your cells and tissues need oxygen to function properly.
Sometimes, it becomes necessary to increase the level of oxygen that’s available to your body. To do this, doctors use a hyperbaric oxygen chamber or hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT).
What Is Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy?
A hyperbaric chamber is a clear, tube-like structure where you lie down. The chamber is pressurized with pure 100% oxygen.
The pressure inside the chamber is about 2.5 times higher than the atmospheric pressure outside. This allows your lungs to gather more oxygen than they normally would and forces oxygenated blood throughout your body. This then aids the healing process by stimulating the growth of new healthy tissues.
Why Is Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy Used?
HBOT is used in a wide range of medical situations. Typically, it’s used to treat conditions where the tissues need more oxygen than is normally available. This could be because of damaged tissues, obstructed blood vessels, or a deficiency in your blood’s oxygen-carrying capacity.
Conditions treated with HBOT include:
- Carbon monoxide poisoning
- Diabetic foot ulcers, necrosis, or other wounds that won’t heal
- Decompression sickness
- Crush injuries
- Radiation injury
- Burns and skin grafts
- Gas gangrene
- Radiation tissue damage
- Air or gas embolism
- Reduced blood flow to arteries
- Antibiotic-resistant infections
- Sudden vision or hearing loss
- Chronic pain
Increased Oxygenation Promotes Healing
In cases of injury or infection, the blood vessels around the affected area may become blocked or damaged. This can impede blood flow and prevent oxygen from reaching the affected area.
These blood vessels need to be repaired and rebuilt before healing can begin. This is where HBOT comes in. By increasing the amount of oxygen available, HBOT accelerates the growth of new blood vessels (a process called angiogenesis).
This results in an increased blood supply and nutrients to the damaged area, which promotes healing. In this way, HBOT repairs damaged tissue and stimulate the growth of new healthy tissues.
In addition, the high level of oxygen in the chamber also kills bacteria. This is beneficial for treating wounds that are infected or at risk of infection.
Is It Dangerous?
There are some risks involved with HBOT, but if it is being considered as a possible treatment, it is because the potential benefits outweigh the risks.
The most common side effects of HBOT are ear pain and sinus pain. This is because of the pressurized air in the chamber (like when you’re on an airplane). Some patients also struggle with claustrophobia while lying in a small chamber.
Also, pure oxygen is very flammable, so HBOT chambers are only used in approved facilities with specially trained staff.