Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is also known as hyperbaric medicine. It is the used of oxygen at higher level than the normal atmospheric pressure. Hyperbaric oxygen treatment is approved to treat diseases such as air or gas embolism, carbon monoxide poisoning, crush injuries, compartment syndromes, wound problems, exceptional blood loss, skin grafts, burns, autism, hearing loss, inflammatory bowel disease, decompression sickness and many others.
The therapy treats decompression sickness and gas embolism by increasing pressure. High concentration of oxygen keeps the oxygen-starved tissues alive and removes nitrogen from the bubble making it smaller until it only consists of oxygen, which is reabsorbed then by the body. After eliminating the bubbles, the pressure is slowly reduced back to atmospheric levels.
Patients are treated usually in outpatient clinics. An hour of HBOT session may cost between $108 and 250$ in private clinics and over $1,000 in hospitals. In the United Kingdom, HBOT is mostly financed by their National Health Service and some non-profit institutions such as Multiple Sclerosis Therapy Centers. Years ago, the type of hyperbaric chamber used for HBOT was a hard shelled pressure vessel. It can be semi-portable, one-patient unit to multi-patient units which can treat eight or more patients. With the recent advances, portable soft chambers were manufactured. Hard and soft chambers differ in their features, safety and efficacy.
At present, the chambers could accommodate both patient and medical staff inside the chamber. The patient breathes from oxygen helmets which is a soft plastic helmet with a seal around the neck or from oxygen masks. Patients breathe 100% of oxygen during treatments and most of the time with periodic air breaks to minimize the risk of oxygen toxicity. Exhaled gas must be eliminated from the chamber to prevent oxygen build up which can eventually cause fire. To reduce risk of decompression sickness, the medical staff may also breathe in oxygen. There is a need to check the oxygen level of the patient before and after the session. The use of an oximeter is very important in checking oxygen level. One of the commonly used types of it is the fingertip oximeter. Some chambers are small that can only accommodate one person. The chamber uses either pure oxygen or compressed air. Using a pure oxygen is much costly than using compressed air.
There are also risks involved with this therapy. Pressure change can lead to squeeze tissues that surround trap air inside the body such as in the lungs, eardrum, inside of the paranasal sinuses. Excess oxygen can also cause oxygen toxicity which can result to temporary blurring of vision as the lens tends to swell. Ear discomforts may also be experienced by the patient as there is pressure difference developing between the middle ear and the chamber atmosphere. Increased pressure could lead to rupture of eardrums and cause severe pain.
Not all can undergo hyperbaric oxygen therapy since there are several factors to be considered. This therapy is contraindicated to patient with pneumothorax, those taking chemotherapeutic drugs, with upper respiratory tract infections, high fever, emphysema, malignant diseases and those who had thoracic surgery. Careful decision making is needed before you undergo on this kind of therapy. It is not only expensive but it is also poses risks and threat to health.