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How Hyperbaric Oxygen Works

Published on March 1st, 2013 by Dr. Jennifer Nardella and Dr. Meghan Haggarty

The air we breathe contains 21% oxygen at sea level pressure. We breathe approximately 21 percent oxygen and 79 percent nitrogen. In hyperbaric oxygen therapy, the patient is placed a specialized chamber that is gradually pressurized using 100% oxygen. Typical hyperbaric chambers provide pressure up to the equivalent of being 66 feet under seawater. Specialized chambers associated with deep sea diving can provide much greater pressures. This increased pressure combined with breathing only oxygen allows the oxygen to dissolve into the blood and all other body tissues and fluids. In the range 15 to 20 times more oxygen than normal is provided to body tissues.

Oxygen is absorbed into the bloodstream via the lungs and carried throughout the body by the circulatory system. The surrounding pressure creates a strong oxygenation gradient between hypoxic tissues and the saturated blood. This leads to a massive diffusion of oxygen to these tissues. This oxygen-saturated plasma moves from the circulatory system into tissue spaces, leaking into areas where there is weak or no blood flow and carries oxygen molecules with it. More oxygen is delivered to more cells under hyperbaric condition than can be delivered by the circulatory system without pressure. Other body fluids, such as the cerebrospinal fluid, interstitial fluid are also infused with oxygen. This pressure starts at a minimum of 1.4 ATA and requires a chamber built to standards similar to submarines.

What are the benefits of increasing oxygen in tissues

All of the benefits provided by hyperbaric oxygen therapy are the result of extra oxygen being carried within circulation, it includes:

  • Increasing oxygen delivery to the injured tissue
  • Enhancing new blood vessel formation
  • Stimulating wound healing
  • Improve the immune system and control infections
  • Regenerating damaged tissues
  • Reducing the effects from toxic substances
  • Reduction or elimination of tissue obstruction by gas bubbles in cases of diving decompression sickness.

How different levels of pressure and treatment duration are used to treat different conditions

Oxygen under pressure is considered a drug. The treatment pressure and duration is different from patient to patient according to disease type and severity. This is like any other drug when the dosing has to be adjusted according to the condition and the severity of a patient’s condition. To be effective, HBOT must be given intermittently. Usually patients do HBOT once daily 5 times a week. The dose, duration, pressure and treatment intervals, and number of treatments must be tailored to the specific disease process being treated by one of our naturopathic doctors.

Example of hyperbaric protocols in different conditions:

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is used as a treatment for many diseases. Taking decompression sickness known as “the bends” as an example; it is an extremely painful and potentially dangerous condition that strikes deep sea divers who surface too quickly. This causes the formation of nitrogen bubbles in their circulation, hyperbaric oxygen therapy is used to relieve these symptoms. The treatment for the bends is 4 hours and 35 minutes and it uses two different pressures, starting at 2.8 ATA followed of 2.0 ATA then the pressure is decreased gradually. Usually one treatment is sufficient. In a condition like carbon monoxide poisoning, treatment is applied using another protocol called Weaver hyperbaric protocol. Here the patient is given three HBOT sessions in 24 hours at a pressure of 2.4 ATA.

Deciding the right protocol and tracking a patient’s progress is a critical element in the delivery of effective HBOT. Patients should be educated as to the risks and benefits of therapy. Our highly trained and qualified naturopathic doctors and technicians are here to provide you with safe and effective treatment.

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