Necrotizing Soft Tissue Infections

In this Article

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is used to treat infections of the skin and soft tissues that cause necrosis [nuh-kroh-sis] or tissue death. During these treatments, you breathe pressurized oxygen while you lie inside a clear plastic tube. The extra oxygen helps your body fight the infection and repair damaged tissue. Each treatment can take up to 2 hours. Side effects from the treatment are rare.

What is hyperbaric oxygen therapy?

Hyperbaric [hahy-per-bar-ik] or high pressure oxygen therapy is a treatment for many kinds of illnesses and injuries, including soft tissue necrosis. During this treatment, you breathe pure oxygen in a special chamber where the air pressure is two or three times higher than normal. This lets your lungs take in more oxygen than they normally can. The extra oxygen helps your body make new blood vessels, repair damaged tissues, and fight infection.

What are the risks and/or side effects?

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is usually considered safe and side effects are rare. However, there are some risks associated with the high air pressure used. These risks include:

  • Ruptured eardrum
  • Collapsed lung
  • Temporary nearsightedness (not being able to clearly see things that are far away). This usually goes away in a few days or weeks after your last treatment.

Another risk with hyperbaric oxygen therapy is seizure [see-zher] caused by having too much oxygen in your body. This is not life-threatening.

Pregnant women should not have hyperbaric oxygen therapy.

What are the benefits?

A necrotizing infection is a type of bacterial infection that causes tissue death. It is rare but can be very serious. If you have a necrotizing infection in your skin, muscles, or other tissues underneath the skin, hyperbaric oxygen therapy can help you heal. The extra oxygen makes it easier for your body to repair damaged tissue and fight infection.

How do I prepare?

You should not drink any alcohol within 8 hours of hyperbaric oxygen therapy.

Because oxygen can cause a fire if there is a spark, you should never bring a lighter or any device with a battery in it into the treatment area.

Do not use skin care products with petroleum jelly before treatment. Petroleum is also a fire hazard around oxygen.

How is it done or administered?

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy usually is given at a special outpatient clinic. If you are already hospitalized, you might get this treatment in the hospital. You will lie on a table inside a long clear plastic tube. The tube will be sealed and filled with pressurized oxygen. You might feel popping or fullness in your ears, similar to the way you feel taking off in an airplane. If this happens, it can help to swallow or yawn.

The clinic staff will be able to see and hear you during your treatment and you can talk to them. You should try to relax and breathe normally. You might be able to watch TV or listen to music. Your treatment can take up to 2 hours. Then the tube will be slowly depressurized. You might feel tired or lightheaded afterwards. This should go away soon.

When will I know the results?

You may need as many as 20 to 40 treatment sessions with hyperbaric oxygen for a necrotizing soft tissue infection. Your treatment might also include debridement [dih-breed-muh nt] (surgery to remove dead tissue), antibiotics (medicine to kill bacteria), and other kinds of medicine.

How well you recover from a necrotizing soft tissue infection depends on several factors, such as:

  • How quickly your infection is diagnosed
  • How soon your treatment is started
  • Whether you have other health problems, such as diabetes
  • What specific type of bacteria is causing the infection
  • How quickly the infection is spreading through your body

Serious complications are possible with this type of infection, including loss of the use of an arm or leg, amputation, and death.

What are follow-up requirements and options?

You should try to keep all of your appointments for hyperbaric oxygen therapy. Each treatment builds on the one before to help you get better. Tell your doctor if you have any questions or concerns about your treatment.

Stopping smoking improves blood flow throughout your body, which can help repair damaged tissue and fight infection.

Be sure to take all medicines prescribed for you by your doctor. Know what problems to watch for and tell your doctor about.

What should I expect during recovery?

After a hyperbaric oxygen treatment, you should:

  • Get plenty of rest for the next 24 hours.
  • Drink lots of fluids; avoid alcohol and caffeinated drinks such as coffee, tea, and colas.
  • Avoid taking hot showers or tub baths for 24 hours.
  • Not participate in any strenuous activities for 48 hours.
  • Not fly in any private or commercial aircraft for at least 24 hours.