Hyperbaric oxygen therapy involves exposing the body to 100 percent oxygen at a pressure that is greater than what you normally experience. Wounds need oxygen to heal properly, and exposing a wound to 100 percent oxygen can, in many cases, speed the healing process.
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy can be done in a number of ways. It can be given in a special type of room called a hyperbaric oxygen chamber. In this setting, you are completely immersed in 100 percent oxygen delivered at high pressure. It can also be given through a gas mask, which delivers 100 percent oxygen to your lungs. The rest of your body is at normal oxygen levels, but still under higher pressure than normal. In some instances, “topical” hyperbaric oxygen therapy can be applied to just one part of the body. If the wound is on your leg, for example, your leg could be wrapped in a plastic bag that is filled with 100 percent oxygen under pressure. Although this localized form of topical oxygen therapy is easier to do and more affordable, its effectiveness, compared with the other forms of hyperbaric oxygen therapy, is questionable, according to the latest research.
A number of studies have shown that hyperbaric oxygen therapy does speed wound healing for many types of wounds. Research has shown that it’s helpful for:
Delayed radiation injuries
Soft tissue infections
Certain skin grafts and flaps
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is effective at healing wounds and, in turn, reducing your risk for amputation, particularly if you have diabetes.
Side effects of hyperbaric oxygen therapy are extremely rare but include:
Pressure-related trauma to your ears or nose
Non–life-threatening convulsions related to oxygen toxicity
A few patients with severe congestive heart failure have experienced additional problems with heart function after hyperbaric oxygen therapy.
Some facilities have a large hyperbaric oxygen chamber that can treat up to a dozen people at a time. But the typical hospital has what is known as a monoplace, which is equipment for just one person.
Here is what usually happens during a hyperbaric oxygen therapy session:
You will likely be asked to remove your clothing and wear a medical gown that is 100 percent cotton.
You will lie on a table that slides into the monoplace, a clear plastic tube that’s about 7 feet long.
You will be asked to relax and breathe normally during the procedure. You can watch TV or listen to music.
You will be able to talk to the therapist at any time during the treatment, and the therapist can see you and talk to you at all times
The chamber will be sealed and then filled with pressurized oxygen.
The pressure will rise to 2.5 times the normal air pressure, and you may experience some ear popping or mild discomfort. This is completely normal.
The session will last anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours.
After the therapy, technicians will slowly depressurize the chamber.
Once your hyperbaric oxygen therapy session is complete, you may feel lightheaded or tired. These symptoms will usually go away after a short period of time.
The number of hyperbaric oxygen therapy treatments you will need depends on the extent of your wound and how well the wound responds to therapy.