Mr. Norris, I recently read an article that said hyperbaric oxygen chambers can heal various sicknesses and wounds. Admittedly, I’ve associated them with either medical folklore or fictional space travel. Could you throw some light on this oxygen therapy stuff? – “Olly, Olly, Oxygen Free” in Ohio
New York-Presbyterian Hospital is one of the largest hospitals in the country, with more than 2,600 beds. The hospital’s website notes that in 2012 alone, more than 2 million inpatients and outpatients came through its doors and departments, including 275,592 visits to its emergency rooms. The hospital offers state-of-the-art and preventive care in all areas of medicine through its 6,020 affiliated physicians and 19,618 staff members.
Like many cutting-edge health centers across the country, New York-Presbyterian’s facilities include a hyperbaric oxygen therapy program.
The hospital gives a great definition of HBOT: “Hyperbaric oxygen therapy allows you (to) breathe … pure oxygen under increased pressure. This level is much higher than the 21 percent oxygen found in room air. The air inside the hyperbaric chamber can be compressed up to three times the pressure found at sea level. This pressure is similar to that which is felt when diving underwater down to 66 feet. The combination of high pressure and pure oxygen drives the life-giving oxygen into the bloodstream at a very high concentration so that it can spread deep into the body tissues to help fight many types of illness.”
The Mayo Clinic also gives a list of the medical conditions HBOT can treat, including severe anemia, carbon monoxide poisoning, bubbles of air in your blood vessels, decompression sickness, a crushing injury, a wound that won’t heal, skin or bone infection that prompts death of tissue, gangrene, burns, skin grafts and radiation injuries.
Though evidence is scant, continued research is being done to warrant HBOT efficacy for other conditions, including chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, gastrointestinal ulcers, arthritis, cerebral palsy, stroke, cirrhosis, autism, allergies and even cancer. Though the American Cancer Society questions HBOT effectiveness on some of these conditions because of inadequate scientific evidence, many clinics and centers across the country highlight its promise.
For example, Johnson Medical Associates, on their website for Hyperbaric Centers of Texas Inc., explain that “many of the ‘off-label’ conditions have been studied extensively and have shown remarkable results with hyperbaric oxygen therapy. Some of these conditions include Autism, Traumatic Brain Injury, Stroke, Sports Injuries, RSD, and Cerebral Palsy.”
The website also notes how, with HBOT, tissues receive 10 to 15 times more oxygen than normal air has. Some benefits include “growth of new blood vessels, decreased swelling and inflammation, deactivation of toxins, increase in body’s ability to fight infections, cleared out toxins and metabolic waste products, improved rate of healing, treatment of carbon monoxide poisoning, assistance with neurological conditions, and much more.”
One more example of ongoing HBOT research is that which is being conducted by the International Hyperbaric Medical Foundation. It is aimed at potentially helping – among others – the 700,000-plus veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan who may have traumatic brain injuries, post-concussion syndrome or post-traumatic stress disorder. The foundation’s national study is seeking volunteers to investigate hyperbaric oxygen’s effectiveness in healing wounded brains. A brochure on the study asserts that “published studies have indicated that HBOT may be effective in treating mild to moderate traumatic brain injury and PTSD.”
The American Cancer Society’s website explains that HBOT treatment is generally performed in a room designed to accommodate several people (multiplace) or a single-person chamber (monoplace). The latter is a 7-foot-long clear plastic tube with a padded table. As the patient breathes normally, the chamber is gradually pressurized with pure oxygen, which typically rises up to 2.5 times the normal atmospheric pressure. A treatment session is about 30 minutes to two hours.
The number of treatments a patient needs depends upon his or her specific problem and response to therapy. But according to New York-Presbyterian Hospital, emergency conditions are treated up to 10 times in the first week; chronic infections and other wounds may require 20 to 60 treatments over a period of weeks; inpatients receive treatments once or twice each day; and outpatients are generally treated once a day, five days per week. Most insurances, Medicare and Medicaid cover HBOT if the condition is medically approved.
Though treatment is generally painless and the risks of HBOT are few and rare, a patient needs to consider the Mayo Clinic’s list of four potential complications with the therapy:
“Temporary nearsightedness (myopia) caused by increased blood oxygen levels.
“Middle ear and inner ear injuries, including leaking fluid and eardrum rupture, due to increased air pressure.
“Organ damage caused by air pressure changes (barotrauma).
“Seizures as a result of too much oxygen (oxygen toxicity) in your central nervous system.”
If you’re considering using HBOT, first consult with your health-care professional. And if you live in or can get to Texas, my wife, Gena, and I recommend Johnson Medical Associates (JohnsonMedicalAssociates.com, 800-807-7555) and their Hyperbaric Centers of Texas (972-238-7333).
Dr. Alfred Johnson and his staff members are first-rate professionals in their field. Johnson’s expertise is in comprehensive medicine – traditional, holistic and alternative.