January 01, 2019

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy

A jump-start on healing

It's often said that just because something is good doesn't mean that more is better. Yet, when it comes to oxygen carried in the bloodstream, there are certain medical conditions in which more oxygen than normal is better.

Normal air contains about 21 percent oxygen. This is a perfectly adequate amount for the lungs to gather enough oxygen and saturate red blood cells to meet the body's needs. However, being able to increase the oxygen content of blood can be lifesaving in some situations and healing in others.

Breathing 100 percent oxygen as opposed to room air slightly increases the amount of oxygen carried in blood. To dramatically increase the oxygen carried in the blood, an increase in atmospheric pressure also is needed.

Pressure chamber

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy involves breathing 100 percent oxygen while in a chamber in which the atmospheric pressure is increased up to three times that of normal atmospheric pressure. Some chambers resemble a large hospital room — and you may be in the chamber with other people. Other chambers are clear tubes big enough for one person and a bed. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy can be used for:

  • Decompression illness — Scuba divers who surface too quickly can develop nitrogen bubbles in the bloodstream, a condition called the bends. This is a serious, potentially life-threatening condition. Air bubbles (arterial gas embolism) in the blood can also occur from other causes, for example from an injury to a blood vessel. Breathing oxygen at high pressures reduces the...