Hyperbaric chambers are not just for divers suffering from “the bends” any more. These specialized chambers, where 100 percent oxygen is circulated at higher than normal atmospheric pressure, also are used to treat patients with a variety of health conditions. Today, hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) is giving hope to people suffering from chronic wounds, as well as other injuries and conditions.
I caught up with Dr. Amdeep Kaur, medical director for the new Wound Care Center by Des Peres Hospital, about the benefits of HBOT for treating chronic wounds. (Chronic wounds are wounds that have not shown significant improvement with conventional treatment within 30 days or complete healing in eight weeks and are typically associated with diabetes, pressure ulcers, trauma, peripheral vascular disease, poor circulation, immobility and other conditions.)
Treatment in a hyperbaric chamber involves breathing pure oxygen to increase circulation and inundate areas with oxygen-rich blood, which may help promote healing. By increasing oxygen in-take, oxygen-starved cells then receive much-needed replenishment so the healing process may begin.
"Oxygen plays a vital role in the body’s healing process," said Dr. Kaur. "By increasing oxygen from 20 percent in normal air to 100 percent under pressurized conditions, the lungs and skin are able to absorb more oxygen in less time."
"Speeding up the circulation process can, in turn, give patients a better chance at recovery and potentially avert the need for limb amputation or tissue removal," Dr. Kaur said.
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is designed to heal wounds from the inside out. Under normal conditions, a healthy network of veins and arteries circulates enough oxygen for tissues to heal properly. But people with compromised immune function, circulatory disorders, diabetes or other health conditions may be slow to recover from wounds because of insufficient blood supply. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy may offer patients a better chance at recovery by thwarting infection while increasing blood vessel growth into the wound, promoting spontaneous healing or a successful skin graft.
"The length and number of treatments with hyperbaric oxygen depends on the condition and its severity," said Dr. Kaur.
In addtion to chronc wounds, hyperbaric oxygen therapy also can be used to treat patients with:
- Carbon monoxide poisoning
- Air or gas embolism – when air bubbles enter the blood stream and interfere with oxygen circulation.
- Gas gangrene – an infection that releases toxins, eats away soft tissues, and attacks the body’s defense mechanisms.
- Thermal burns – severe burns to the hands, face or groin area as well as deep burns to more than 20 percent of a patient’s body may be treated treated. Also may help reduce the effects to the lungs from heat and smoke.
- Crush injuries – treatment increases blood flow to injured areas, reduces swelling and helps fight infection.
- Blood loss – oxygen content of existing red blood cells is increased in patients unable to accept a blood transfusion.
- Bone infections – treatment increases effects of some antibiotics while strengthening white blood cells.
- Radiation therapy – treatment can help reduce complications caused by the narrowing of blood vessels resulting in tissue loss.
"Patients entering a hyperbaric chamber will initially experience a change in air pressure in their ears, which is similar to what occurs during an airplane landing," said Dr. Kaur. "Some patients may become more nearsighted after several treatments, but this is a temporary side-effect that should disappear shortly after therapy ends."
Smoking during the course of treatment is not recommended because cigarette smoke causes blood vessels to constrict, counteracting the benefits of hyperbaric oxygen therapy.
For more information, visit www.stlwoundcare.com.