Understanding Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy

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Hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) is the use of controlled pressurized oxygen on a patient inside a specialized chamber.

The treatment aims to speed up healing and produce other positive effects by reaching the body at the cellular level.

Because of its promising results (according to clinical trials), chronic pain and wound patients (even athletes like Rafael Nadal, Lionel Messi, and Lebron James) make it a part of their recovery process. 

But what are the ailments it can help with, how does it exactly work, and how much does a hyperbaric oxygen therapy cost?

Therapeutic Uses

The usage of hyperbaric chambers is not entirely new in the medical field. According to Duke University’s medical center, the first documented use of the hyperbaric apparatus was in the U.K. in 1662. It had intricate bellows and valves to control the compression and decompression of the oxygen inside. 

The chamber design was then adapted and used in the U.S. by Orville Cunningham in the early 20th century, to treat someone inflicted with the flu. In the 1940s, the U.S. Navy used hyperbaric oxygen to treat decompression sickness on deep-sea divers. And in the 1960s, it was used to combat carbon monoxide poisoning. 

HBOT has come a long way and undergone modern design changes and regulations by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).  

Fully Approved by the FDA

  • Decompression sickness
  • Carbon monoxide poisoning
  • Tissue Repair
  • Skin grafts and flaps
  • Thermal burns
  • Crush injuries, acute trauma
  • Necrotizing soft tissue infections
  • Exceptional blood loss anemia

Off-Label Use

  • Muscle injury
  • Bone fractures
  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Spinal cord injury
  • Rheumatic diseases
  • Concussion
  • PTSD
  • Stroke
  • Dementia
  • Depression
  • Arthritis
  • Post-operative healing
  • Migraine
  • Bell’s palsy
  • Organ transplants

What Happens During the Therapy

The human body has systems in place to protect and heal itself. But, more challenging cases call for medical procedures like HBOT that can help improve and even speed it up. Only your healthcare provider can prescribe this therapy, which will consist of several sessions. So, how does it work? 

  • Heal from oxygen-rich plasma. Patients undergoing HBOT can go into two kinds of hyperbaric chambers. The first is the monoplace chamber. This chamber looks like an MRI machine, suited for one person. The second is the multiple chamber, wherein two or more people can fit. In it, they will inhale high levels of regulated oxygen, which will be dissolved in the body through the plasma and central nervous system fluids. The plasma and nervous system fluids deliver the oxygen to stop cellular hypoxia (oxygen-starvation) and tissue death.
  • Generate connective tissues and cells. Oxygen-rich plasma increases tissue and cellular diffusion, which then encourages angiogenesis or the formation of new blood vessels by branching out existing ones. Higher levels of oxygen in the body also boost the production of the protein collagen, which stimulates new tissue growth and tissue and cell generation, resulting in faster and better healing.
  • Strengthen the immune system. Healthy oxygen-filled cells and tissues help them resist infections better. Higher concentrations of oxygen also improve white blood cells, making them more capable of finding and destroying foreign bodies like bacteria, germs, and viruses.
  • Prevent cellular dysfunction and atrophy. Also known as Ischaemia-Reperfusion injury (IRI), early cellular atrophy happens when there is severe tissue damage, often through lacerations and puncture wounds. The damage can come from oxygen deprivation when blood flow is interrupted. This injury can lead to the release of oxygen radicals from the affected cells, which can cause further irreversible tissue damage. HBOT prevents this by strengthening the cells and the body’s oxygen radical scavengers, which will find and destroy harmful molecules and ensure the continuation of the healing process.

Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy Cost

When a healthcare provider prescribes an HBOT, there are two options. One can choose to have the treatment at a hospital if their condition is FDA-approved. Health insurance providers like Medicare and Medicaid usually cover these (with some exceptions). Treatment for off-label conditions may require independent providers and may cost around $250-$450 per session, depending on the medical center. 

The Takeaway

At the end of the day, the decision to undergo hyperbaric oxygen therapy should be upon the recommendation of a healthcare provider after a thorough consultation. 

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