Hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) encompasses the sessions performed by using oxygen at higher pressure than the normal atmospheric level. It is used for the treatment of air embolism, decompression sickness, infections, burns, and carbon monoxide poisoning.
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) refers to the therapeutic use of oxygen at an elevated pressure than the normal atmospheric level (1 atm). It is also known as hyperbaric medicine. In this therapy, a sealed chamber saturated with pure oxygen at 1½ – 3 times the normal atmospheric pressure is used. Though modern equipment for the same purpose have developed recently, the technique of HBOT is known to be in practice since the early 1600s.
Hyperbaric medicine can be performed in small chambers (monoplace) for only one person or in large chambers (multiplace) that can fit more than 10 people at a time. The effectiveness of both oxygen chambers remains the same. In either case, a hyperbaric oxygen therapy session may last for about 30 minutes to as long as 2 hours. Let’s take a look at both the approaches in detail.
Monoplace Oxygen Chamber
In monoplace, the person lies on a padded table, which is then slid into a plastic tube of about 7 feet in length. As pure oxygen is supplied to the chamber, the pressure inside the tube is increased gradually to about 2.5 times the normal atmospheric pressure. The patient is instructed to breathe normally during the therapy. If the patient experiences discomfort, then the technician will reduce the pressure slightly. At the end of the session, the pressure inside the monoplace is decreased slowly.
Multiplace Oxygen Chamber
In multiplace oxygen chambers, a nurse or an assistant usually observes and monitors the patients that are present inside the chamber. Each of the patients is provided with a close-fitting plastic hood through which pressurized 100 percent pure oxygen is supplied. The patient breathes in the hyperbaric oxygen through the hood. If the patient desires to use other gases (helium or nitrogen), then a mixture of gases is also supplied through the hood. The pressure of oxygen used in multiplace chambers generally exceeds more than 4 times the normal atmospheric pressure.
This form of oxygen therapy has many health implications. It increases the oxygen partial pressure in the body cells and tissues, which is beneficial for strengthening the circulatory system. The pressurized oxygen also stimulates blood supply to various organs with a restricted blood flow. Also, hyperbaric medicine enhances the production of superoxide dismutase (SOD), a natural antioxidant that combats the action of free radicals.
Hyperbaric medicine is used for the treatment of air embolism; a condition caused due to presence of air bubbles in the bloodstream. This therapy is proven to be an effective procedure for overcoming decompression sickness (DCS) caused by precipitation of dissolved gases under a depressurized condition. DCS is commonly observed among scuba divers and caisson workers. In both the health conditions, HBOT helps in reducing the bubble size and promoting blood flow to the organs. In general, this therapy is adopted for the treatment of infections, inflammation, osteomyelitis, radiation injury, thermal burns, carbon monoxide poisoning, and cyanide poisoning.
The side effects of hyperbaric medicine are rare. As per the health experts, adverse effects arise due to the long treatment session (which at times exceeds 2 hours), and when the pressure level is increased to more than three times the normal atmospheric pressure. Hence, if such factors are taken care of, the possibility of HBOT side effects can also be minimized.
After attending the HBOT session, the participants often report mild discomfort in the ears and sinuses. Nevertheless, these are temporary side effects that can be overcome after the therapy. In order to prevent ear trauma, there are special earplugs designed for wearing during the session. Blockage of the sinuses are best treated with decongestants. Also, to avoid such discomforts, the technician or the assistant will explain things to be done during the treatment session.