The patient will comfortably lie inside a hyperbaric chamber for 90-120 minutes per day during treatment. Many patients start out with 20 treatments. Treatments may be extended further, depending on the progression of the wound and or complications. The chamber is pressurized with 100 percent oxygen to the equivalent of diving 33 to 45 feet below sea level. This increase in pressure allows more oxygen to be dissolved into the plasma (up to 10 to 20 times more than normal). The air we normally breathe is about 21 percent oxygen. Patients in a hyperbaric chamber are breathing roughly 200 percent to 240 percent oxygen.
“Over time, the increase of oxygen stimulates angiogenesis, which is new blood vessel formation in the tissues,” says Susie Frye, a Certified Hyperbaric Technologist and Safety Director at Logan Regional Hospital. For patients who follow the recommended treatments, nutrition and wound care, she adds, hyperbaric oxygen therapy “will speed up the healing process by three to five times.”
Hyper means increased, and baric refers to pressure. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy can increase circulation and oxygenation, Frye adds, allowing the oxygen to build and repair damaged blood vessels, as well as triggering collagen growth, which leads to healing.
“The increase in pressure can also reduce swelling, which in turn, increases blood flow,” she says. “Oxygen also helps the body create new white blood cells, which helps the body fight off infection.”
Some common uses of the chambers is to treat diabetic foot ulcers, where bone, muscle or tendon may be exposed. Hyperbaric treatments can also help treat osteomyelitis, certain infections, failing grafts or flaps, carbon monoxide poisoning, decompression sickness (bends), thermal burns and more. Patients who have had certain cancers and have undergone radiation treatments can also benefit, as can those with radionecrosis – damage to tissue caused by exposure to radiation.
Cynthia Carman, manager of the wound care/hyperbaric clinic at Logan Regional, says she and her staff operate “under very strict safety regulations” because of the high oxygen levels associated with hyperbaric chamber use. Anything that could ignite a fire or act as fuel, such as hairspray, deodorant, electronic devices or cigarette lighters, is banned from the treatment room. Most patients watch movies, listen to music or simply sleep during the treatments.
Logan Regional purchased two hyperbaric chambers in 2012, and now has a total of three chambers. Some chambers are built for more than one patient, but all three of Logan’s chambers are single-person. Carman says that patients should check with their doctor if they think hyperbaric treatments might be helpful.
“This is one of many wound treatment modalities,” Carman says. “We’re a wound clinic first, and some patients benefit from hyperbaric treatments.”
5 benefits of hyperbaric oxygen therapy