Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy: Revolutionizing Wound Healing

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Wound healing is an essential process for the body, crucial for restoring the integrity of the skin and underlying tissues after injury. Yet, for many, the journey toward complete healing is fraught with obstacles, particularly when faced with chronic wounds or conditions that impair the body’s natural healing mechanisms.

Diabetic foot ulcers, radiation injuries, and chronic non-healing wounds pose significant challenges to patients and healthcare providers alike, often leading to prolonged discomfort, risk of infection, and, in severe cases, amputation.

The quest for innovative treatments capable of overcoming these hurdles is ongoing, and among the most promising of these advancements is Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT), a technique that leverages the healing power of oxygen to treat complex wounds.

Understanding Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT)

Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT) is a medical treatment that enhances the body’s natural healing processes through the inhalation of 100% oxygen in a total body chamber, where atmospheric pressure is increased to above-normal sea level and controlled. It is used for a wide variety of treatments, usually as a part of an overall medical care plan.

Under these conditions, your lungs can gather more oxygen than would be possible by breathing pure oxygen at normal air pressure. Your blood carries this oxygen throughout your body. This helps fight bacteria and stimulate the release of substances called growth factors and stem cells¹, which promote healing.

HBOT's history dates back to the 1600s², but its modern medical applications were not fully appreciated until the mid-20th century, with the treatment of decompression sickness in divers. Since then, the scope of HBOT has broadened remarkably, encompassing not only acute but also chronic conditions, driven by an increasing understanding of its physiological benefits.

During a typical HBOT session, which can last from 60 to 120 minutes, patients lie in a transparent chamber, breathing normally as the pressure and oxygen levels are carefully increased. This non-invasive procedure is generally well-tolerated, with patients often listening to music, watching TV, or simply resting.

The Role of HBOT in Wound Healing

At the cellular level, HBOT exerts its therapeutic effects through several mechanisms. By dramatically increasing the oxygen concentration in the blood, HBOT delivers oxygen to wound areas where circulation is impaired. This influx of oxygen accelerates the repair processes, stimulates angiogenesis (the formation of new blood vessels), and enhances the function of white blood cells, which fight infection.

HBOT is particularly beneficial for wounds that are slow to heal due to diabetes, radiation damage, or other underlying conditions. Diabetic foot ulcers, for example, are notorious for their poor healing rates due to compromised blood flow and reduced oxygenation; HBOT directly addresses these issues, offering a chance for such wounds to heal. Radiation injuries, which can cause long-term tissue damage, and chronic non-healing wounds also show marked improvement with HBOT, supported by a growing body of clinical research that underscores its effectiveness and mechanism of action.

Benefits of Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy for Wound Healing

The adoption of HBOT in wound care is supported by its numerous benefits, which extend beyond accelerated wound healing.

The therapy's ability to reduce the risk of infection³ is particularly valuable, as infections can significantly complicate and prolong the healing process.

By enhancing the body's immune response and increasing collagen production, HBOT not only speeds up wound closure but also improves the quality of the healed tissue, leading to better functional and cosmetic outcomes.

Furthermore, HBOT has been shown to improve the success rates of skin grafts and flaps, a common necessity in treating severe wounds. By improving oxygenation and blood flow in the treated area, HBOT ensures that these tissues receive the necessary nutrients and oxygen to survive and integrate successfully.

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Considerations and Precautions

The complications associated with Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT), while uncommon, are taken seriously and managed through a combination of preventive measures and treatments:

  • Middle Ear Barotrauma: To prevent this, patients are taught techniques to equalize ear pressure during the compression phase of HBOT, such as yawning, swallowing, or the Valsalva maneuver. If patients continue to have difficulty, ear tubes may be recommended by healthcare providers for those undergoing multiple sessions.
  • Sinus Issues: Similar preventive techniques as those for middle ear barotrauma are advised for managing sinus pressure changes. Additionally, decongestants or nasal sprays may be used before sessions to reduce the risk of sinus discomfort.
  • Oxygen Toxicity: Although rare, oxygen toxicity is a potential risk during HBOT. This is mitigated by closely monitoring the duration and oxygen concentration during treatment sessions. HBOT protocols are designed to limit exposure to high oxygen levels, and breaks are incorporated into treatment schedules if extended therapy is necessary.

Patient eligibility for HBOT is determined through a comprehensive assessment that considers the individual’s overall health and specific needs, ensuring that the benefits outweigh any risks. By choosing a reputable and experienced HBOT provider, patients can ensure they receive the highest standard of care, with staff trained to prevent, recognize, and promptly address any side effects or complications.

HBOT Compared to Traditional Wound Healing Methods

Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT) represents a significant advancement in wound care, offering benefits not achievable through traditional wound healing methods alone. Traditional treatments typically focus on local wound care, infection control, and, when necessary, surgical intervention. While these approaches are essential, they often do not address one of the critical underlying issues in chronic wound healing: hypoxia or insufficient oxygen at the wound site.

Conventional treatments, such as dressing changes and topical medications, primarily manage the wound's external environment. HBOT, in contrast, works internally, enhancing the body's ability to heal itself through increased oxygen delivery to tissues. This fundamental difference can make HBOT more effective in treating wounds that have stalled due to poor circulation or diabetes, where oxygenation is a key issue.

Scenarios Where HBOT is Most Effective

HBOT shows its highest efficacy in scenarios involving:

  • Diabetic foot ulcers, where it can significantly reduce amputation rates.
  • Radiation injuries, promoting the healing of radiation-damaged tissues, which conventional methods alone cannot achieve.
  • Chronic non-healing wounds, where traditional treatments have failed to induce healing.
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 Practical Tips for Patients Undergoing HBOT

Preparing for an HBOT Session

Before your first HBOT session, it's important to know what to expect and how to prepare:

  • What to Expect: You'll be in a clear chamber, either lying down or sitting, for about 90-120 minutes. You can relax, sleep, or listen to music.
  • How to Dress: Wear comfortable, loose-fitting cotton clothing. Avoid using any petroleum-based skin products beforehand.

Lifestyle and Dietary Recommendations

  • Hydration: Increase water intake before starting HBOT to enhance oxygen delivery in the body.
  • Diet: Eat a balanced diet rich in antioxidants to support tissue repair and regeneration.

Post-Treatment Care and Monitoring

  • Follow-Up: Attend all scheduled follow-up appointments to monitor wound healing progress.
  • Wound Care: Continue with prescribed wound care routines alongside HBOT treatments.

Conclusion

Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy is revolutionizing wound healing, offering hope where traditional methods fall short. Its ability to accelerate healing, reduce infection risk, and improve patient outcomes makes it a valuable tool in comprehensive wound care strategies. Patients and healthcare providers are encouraged to consider HBOT in managing complex or chronic wounds.

Have you or someone you know experienced the healing benefits of Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy? Share your story or questions in the comments below. If you're considering HBOT for wound healing, we encourage you to speak with a healthcare provider to discuss its suitability for your condition and explore how it can be integrated into your treatment plan.

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Frequently Asked Questions

How long does an HBOT session last?

Typically, each session lasts about 90 to 120 minutes, depending on the condition being treated. This duration allows for the patient to be gradually acclimated to the increased pressure and for oxygen saturation levels in the blood to reach optimal levels for therapeutic effect.

What are the costs of HBOT, and does insurance cover it?

Costs for HBOT can vary widely based on geographical location, the facility, and the specific condition being treated. While many insurance plans do cover HBOT for approved medical conditions such as diabetic foot ulcers and certain types of infections, coverage details can differ significantly between policies. It is essential for patients to consult with their insurance provider to understand their coverage and any potential out-of-pocket costs.

How many treatments are needed?

The total number of HBOT sessions required can range from a few to several dozen, depending on factors such as the severity of the wound, the patient's overall health, and how well the wound responds to the treatment. In some cases, improvements can be seen after a few sessions, but more complex or severe conditions may necessitate a longer course of treatment to achieve the best outcomes.

Is HBOT available everywhere?

While HBOT facilities are more commonly found in large medical centers and specialized wound care clinics, their availability can vary significantly depending on one's location.

Urban areas and regions with higher populations tend to have more HBOT options, whereas rural areas may have limited access. Patients interested in HBOT may need to travel to access treatment, so it's important to consider the logistics and potential travel arrangements required.

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Citations:

  1. Peña-Villalobos, I., Casanova-Maldonado, I., Lois, P., Prieto, C., Pizarro, C., Lattus, J., Osorio, G., & Palma, V. (2018). Hyperbaric Oxygen Increases Stem Cell Proliferation, Angiogenesis and Wound-Healing Ability of WJ-MSCs in Diabetic Mice. Frontiers in physiology, 9, 995. https://doi.org/10.3389/fphys.2018.00995
  2. Simman, R., & Bach, K. (2022). Role of Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy in Cosmetic and Reconstructive Surgery in Ischemic Soft Tissue Wounds: A Case Series. Eplasty, 22, e61.
  3. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/treatment-tests-and-therapies/hyperbaric-oxygen-therapy
  4. https://www.matherhospital.org/patient-success-stories/patient-success-stories-wound-care/jennifer-from-coram/
  5. https://www.palomarhealth.org/wound-healing-and-hyperbaric-centers/patient-story-1/
  6. https://www.uab.edu/news/health/item/13840-from-a-stroke-to-dancing-again-a-patient-s-healing-journey-through-hyperbaric-medicine
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What is Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy?

    Hyperbaric oxygen therapy, also known as HBOT, is a wellness therapy in which a person breathes pure oxygen in a pressurized chamber. This therapy is typically administered in a hyperbaric chamber, which can be a monoplace chamber designed for a single person or a multiplace chamber that can accommodate multiple individuals. The chamber is pressurized to levels higher than atmospheric pressure, usually around 2 to 3 times normal atmospheric pressure. The primary mechanism of action of HBOT is to increase the amount of oxygen dissolved in the bloodstream, which can promote various therapeutic effects.

     Sessions usually last between 30 minutes and 2 hours, and frequency can vary depending on the specific concern being treated and the recommendations of the recipient's wellness advisor(s). In many cases, a standard course of treatment involves daily sessions, typically five days a week. The suggested total number of sessions can range from just a few to several weeks' worth, depending on the nature and severity of the issue the recipient seeks to address.

Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy Benefits

  • Increases Blood Oxygen Levels
  • Stimulates Growth Factors and Stem Cells
  • Improves White Blood Cell Activity 
  • Decreases the Size of Blood Oxygen Molecules and Increases Circulation
  • Increases ATP Energy Molecule Production
  • Stimulates Blood Vessel Synthesis and Proliferation

Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy Applications

Wound Healing

     Hyperbaric oxygen therapy can promote the healing of certain wounds, such as diabetic foot ulcers, non-healing surgical wounds, wounds resulting from traumatic injuries, and burns. In conditions like trauma-induced crush injuries, this works by increasing the amount of dissolved oxygen in the bloodstream through higher pressure. It also reduces bubble size and promotes various healing processes, including vasoconstriction to manage tissue swelling, collagen synthesis for wound healing, and angiogenesis for new blood vessel formation. Simultaneously, HBOT enhances the body's defense against bacteria by increasing oxygen free radicals and improving the effectiveness of certain antibiotics.1 Wound healing is common reason people receive HBOT in wellness studio settings such as ReEnergized, and is also widely recognized and implicated in emergency medical settings.

Fighting Infections

     Hyperbaric oxygen therapy can also help fight bacterial and fungal infections, including more severe and treatment-resistant infections such as those resulting from diabetic wounds, surgical complications, and radiation-related complications. HBOT is particularly valuable when faced with any of the growing list of antibiotic-resistant pathogens, for those allergic or intolerant of antibiotics, and for anyone avoiding the overuse of antibiotics as a means of optimizing their natural immunity. Specifically, HBOT fights infection by slowing down or killing bacteria and boosting the immune system's natural ability to fight infections. Additionally, it works well alongside other infection-fighting treatments as a complimentary approach.2

Radiation Injury

     Cancer patients often undergo hyperbaric oxygen therapy to reduce the side effects of radiation treatment on healthy tissues. These include thermal burns and the potentially-fatal sepsis infection than can result from them. HBOT has an extensive history of success in treating burns– in fact, scientists have known of its ability to reduce burn healing times and mortality rates for over half a century.3 While HBOT is known to treat infections like sepsis by fighting bacteria and boosting immunity, it treats burns by increasing the O2 levels in burned tissues.3

Treating Herpes Family Viruses

     Common viruses in the herpes family include herpes varicella-zoster (chickenpox), herpes zoster (shingles), herpes simplex types I and II, and herpes meningitis. Like many viruses, they are anaerobic, meaning they thrive in environments without oxygen. By increasing bodily oxygen content and circulation, hyperbaric oxygen therapy has been shown to drastically accelerate herpes blister and lesion healing, relieve associated pain, and reduce the prevalence of certain symptoms associated with some herpes strains, such as neuralgia and depression.4

Treating Traumatic Brain Injury

     Hyperbaric oxygen therapy has been demonstrated in numerous studies to have neuroprotective properties when administered to sufferers of traumatic brain injuries (TBI). It does this by improving preventing cell death, reducing inflammation, improving tissue oxygenation and cellular metabolism, and promoting the formation of new neurons and blood vessels in the brain.5

Treatment of Decompression Sickness and Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

     One traditional application of hyperbaric oxygen therapy is to treat decompression sickness, also known as nitrogen gas embolism or 'the bends.' Decompression sickness is most commonly caused by ascending too rapidly after scuba diving, which leads to nitrogen gas bubble to formation within the affected person's blood vessels. Left untreated, decompression sickness can lead to severe side effects such as tissue damage, stroke, or heart attack, and can even be fatal.6 The pressurized environment in the hyperbaric chamber allows the increased atmospheric pressure to force more oxygen into the bloodstream, which helps to shrink, dissolve and eliminate the gas bubbles there. Simultaneously, the increased oxygen availability helps to support tissues that may be experiencing oxygen deprivation due to the blockage caused by gas embolisms. These are the same mechanisms by which HBOT speeds the removal of the noxious gas carbon monoxide from the bloodstream.

Treatment of Vascular Air Embolism

     In contrast to decompression sickness, vascular air embolism (or VAE) occurs when the bubbles formed in the affected person's arteries are made up of air, as opposed to nitrogen. This usually occurs as a side effect of some routine medical procedures, such as the administration of fluids intravenously.7 The mechanisms by which HBOT treats gas embolisms and vascular air embolisms are generally similar. Both conditions involve the presence of gas bubbles in the bloodstream, which can obstruct blood vessels and lead to tissue damage. For both types of embolisms as well as carbon monoxide poisoning, HBOT should be administered in a timely manner for the best chance at preventing severe consequences, and treatment should not be completed before first receiving professional guidance from the recipient's emergency healthcare team.6, 7

Types of Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy

If you're interested in hyperbaric oxygen therapy, you're probably wondering how someone receives this treatment. HBOT is usually administered in one of three different types of settings:

 

  1. Wellness Studios: Many wellness studios and holistic health practitioners offer hyperbaric oxygen treatments on their menus. Common reasons people seek treatment from these independent health centers include their desire to treat various infections, facilitate wound or injury healing, facilitate collagen formation, and to treat the symptoms of herpes viruses. You can search online or call nearby locations to see if they offer hyperbaric oxygen therapy and ask about pricing and availability.

  2. Clinical Medical Providers: Some hospitals, medical offices and clinics also offer HBOT as a treatment for certain conditions, such as non-healing wounds, severe infections resistant to conventional treatment methods, noxious gas poisoning, vascular gas embolism or decompression sickness, traumatic brain injuries, and gangrene. In this case treatment is either administered in an emergency setting, or the patient receives a referral from their primary care doctor to see a specialist. 

  3. At-Home Devices: Of course, there are some who prefer the convenience of receiving chamber therapies at home, and have the necessary space and funds to invest in their own machine. While this option can be attractive, be forewarned– if inadequate training or insufficient focus lead to improper use, the consequences can be serious.8 Additionally, these at-home devices are usually inflatable rather than solid fixtures, and are typically smaller and less powerful than the ones used in professional settings. However they can still be effective for certain conditions.
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Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy Risks

     The risks associated with hyperbaric oxygen therapy are generally considered to be rare when the treatment is administered appropriately by qualified, informed professionals. These include potential claustrophobia while laying in the chamber, anxiety, lightheadedness, fatigue, ear or sinus pressure or discomfort, and in cases where the recipient was in the chamber for too long, there have been cases of oxygen poisoning. HBOT is not recommended for pregnant women or individuals with middle ear barotrauma, uncontrolled high blood pressure, or acute or chronic respiratory conditions.

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Get In Contact


Call

Email

Location

4434 E Pacific Coast Highway
Long Beach, California 90804

Hours


Monday - Friday

11:00AM - 07:00PM

Saturday - Sunday

11:00AM - 04:00PM