Understanding Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy

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Scuba divers are always wary about the effects of increased water pressure on the body. Oxygen and nitrogen absorption goes up. The former is used immediately by the tissues but the nitrogen forms bubbles that block blood vessels. This is a condition known as decompression sickness. Symptoms include numbness in the extremities, headache, fatigue, nausea, and joint pain. These can appear almost immediately after resurfacing but delayed onset is also known to occur. Avoiding this condition requires adherence to the limits set by dive computers. Divers must also ascend slowly to let the body adjust to the pressure changes. If they do get sick, then they must be taken to a hospital that conducts hyperbaric oxygen therapy.

What Happens During Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy?

Everyone knows that we need oxygen to function. We can go on for weeks without food and days without water but we can’t survive without oxygen for more than a few minutes. Fortunately, the air around us is composed of 21% oxygen so every breath gives us life. HBOT pushes the concentration of oxygen to 100% by placing patients inside a sealed chamber with a controlled environment. The pressure is also increased to elevate oxygen absorption in the lungs. This should help the body heal faster from wounds. It can improve the immune system’s ability to fight infections as well.

Types of Hyperbaric Oxygen Chambers

There are two common types of chambers: monoplace and multiplace. The first one is small with dimensions that are enough to accommodate only one person at a time. It has a long, clear plastic tube that lets patients see outside and allows light to shine inside. This prevents claustrophobia while helping medical staff monitor the situation. Patients will need to slip inside the chamber, after which it is injected with 100% oxygen. The second type of chamber is much bigger with room for two or more patients. The same principle applies although people breathe through masks instead of simply breathing the air around them.

Disorders That Can Be Treated with Hyperbaric Chambers

The FDA regulates the sale of devices that are marketed as hyperbaric chambers. They evaluate safety and effectiveness before giving their clearance. Currently, the FDA is allowing hyperbaric chambers to be used for more than just diving mishaps. They are also good for severe anemia when blood transfusions are not possible and large burns for quickly healing the skin. HBOT is also being used to treat crush injuries, carbon monoxide poisoning, gas gangrene, and severe skin infections. Sudden vision loss and hearing loss may be reversed with this form of therapy. The list expands every year with many studies underway to measure HBOT’s effectiveness in treating other conditions.

Although hyperbaric oxygen therapy has proven to be helpful in a wide range of situations, it is not something that works for everyone. Doctors will need to check for suitability before allowing patients to undergo HBOT. For instance, individuals with recent ear trauma or surgery should look for alternatives. Those with colds, fever, or certain lung diseases may also be given other treatments instead.

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