Take a breath. The air you just took in is about 21 percent oxygen. The capillaries in your lungs pick up the oxygen, it dissolves in the plasma of your blood, and gets carried to all parts of your body. And 21 percent oxygen is usually plenty to do the job.

If you have a foot ulcer, for example, the effected tissue in your foot, and your entire body, could use even more oxygen. The white blood cells that fight infection in an ulcer use twenty times more oxygen when they’re killing bacteria. Also, the more oxygen your body has to work with, the more efficiently it lays down wound-repairing connective tissue.

Yet, just when you need more oxygen, you may have less. If you have neuropathy (diabetic nerve damage), that may cause changes in blood flow, resulting in islands of low oxygen levels in your foot. Less oxygen means slower healing, and an ulcer that doesn’t heal could eventually lead to an amputation. So, you should try to get extra oxygen in your blood when you have a foot ulcer. You need to bring the oxygen levels in the tissues around the ulcer up to normal, or even higher.

But, sitting in your living room and breathing in 100 percent oxygen won’t do the trick. Under normal circumstances, only so much oxygen will dissolve in your blood. It’s like trying to dissolve salt in water. When you pour a spoonful of salt into a glass of cold water, not all of the salt dissolves. Simply adding more salt doesn’t make the water dissolve more salt. But when you pour a spoonful of salt into a glass of hot water, all the salt dissolves. At higher temperatures, more salt dissolves. What temperature does for salt in water, pressure does for oxygen in blood. At higher pressures, more oxygen dissolves.

Benefits of Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy:

  • Increases neuronal energy metabolism in the brain
  • Can create sustained cognitive improvement
  • Wakes up sleeping (idling) brain cells that are metabolizing enough to stay alive but are not actively “firing”
  • Enhances the body’s ability to fight bacterial and viral infections
  • Deactivates toxins and poisons (e.g. side effects from some chemotherapy, spider bites, air pollution, etc.)
  • Enhances wound healing by stimulating the growth of new capillaries into the injured area
  • Creates an immediate aerobic state
  • Removes free radicals
  • Reduces tissue swelling
  • Acts as an anti-inflammatory

Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy — How It’s Done…

At Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy of Arizona, we have a large, six person walk-in chamber in which one sits comfortably, breathing 100% oxygen through a mask or hood, while the chamber is safely pressurized with filtered whole air. You sit or recline in the pressurized chamber, possibly with one or more people, while you breathe 100% oxygen through a mask or head tent, or hood. You can often watch TV or read or sleep. At some centers, you will lie in a one-person chamber, and the entire chamber is filled and pressurized with oxygen. But, in a chamber of this type, it is the inhaled oxygen (which is then absorbed by your blood after you breathe it) that speeds wound healing, not the oxygen drifting past the wound. You may have seen advertisements for devices that encase a person’s leg and deliver oxygen to the skin. This is not hyperbaric oxygen therapy and it’s not effective. Your skin doesn’t absorb oxygen that way. These devices may even reduce the amount of oxygen that gets to your leg.
Effects Of Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy

Oxygen levels remain high in tissues for several hours after a treatment, which encourages capillary growth. New capillaries mean more blood gets to the site of concern, which speeds healing. High oxygen levels also make red blood cells more flexible so they can get through the twists and turns of the capillaries and get to where they’re needed.

Although high doses of oxygen can produce a reduction in blood flow to normal tissue, this effect is more than made up for by the ten to fifteen fold increase in the amount of oxygen dissolved in the plasma. And sometimes you want less flow, as long as the flow is rich in oxygen, such as when your foot is already swollen. There are, however, some side effects of Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy.
Does hyperbaric oxygen therapy have side effects?: YouTube video from Orange County CA
Side Effects Due to Increased Pressure

During the pressure changes, your ears will pop, as they do when you fly in an airplane or drive in the mountains. If your ears can’t equalize the pressure, such as, when you are congested with a cold or hay fever, your ears or sinuses could be damaged. Therefore, you shouldn’t have treatments until you handle the congestion. Some people with chronic ear trouble may need to use (as infants may) ear tubes to continue therapy. These are surgically inserted but not permanent.

You will need special consultation and medical clearance if you have active asthma, emphysema, or other lung problems that would put you at high risk for problems. People with untreated collapsed lung must be excluded. A patient can suffer a collapsed lung during treatment. Lung problems are very rare, occurring in about 1 in 50,000 treatments. In England, Dr. James’ facility has treated over one million, two hundred thousand patients with no major incidents. Proper, proven protocol must always be followed.

Older people sometimes find that, after treatment, their vision improves. They can read fine print better. Unfortunately, this effect may only last a few weeks.
Oxygen Toxicity

Oxygen can be overdosed and toxic effects, usually affecting the central nervous system or lungs, can be produced. Proper, proven protocol must always be adhered to. Extended exposure to high doses of oxygen under pressure can cause grand mal seizures. This would be reversed by stopping Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy treatment. Therapy could continue after the seizures stopped.

Susceptibility varies widely, but as oxygen in the blood goes up, so does the risk of oxygen seizures. For this reason, oxygen treatments are performed within the proper pressure limits for given amounts of time. Fever and certain medications can predispose you to oxygen seizures. Always make certain to tell everyone involved what drugs you are taking.

High oxygen levels can cause irritation of the lung tissue, so, treatment schedules have been refined. These complications are virtually unheard of in the United States today.
Confinement Anxiety

Because Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy treatments take place in closed chambers, some people get anxious. Some people, because of claustrophobia, might need sedation. But in a multi-person chamber, which is much larger, that usually isn’t necessary.

Where Do I Go For Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy?

There are over 400 Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy centers throughout the United States and Canada. Most are in hospitals and many of these are associated with universities.

There are an increasing number of free standing, non-hospital hyperbaric facilities. These are generally for mobile, outpatient care where immediate emergency care is not necessary. Many patients with chronic wounds, under the direction of the primary care physician, can access hyperbaric oxygen treatments as part of their regimen through one of these free standing units. Besides the convenience, the therapeutic protocols can be delivered more cost effectively.

Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy produces different effects than oxygen at one atmosphere. Research is finding enhanced healing and improved physiology through several mechanisms:

  • Direct Pressure: Treating bends by slowing the nitrogen release and reducing the size of gas bubbles. Also used for clinical purposes with other arterial air embolisms and tumor size reduction.
  • Direct Oxygenation: Under pressure, oxygen is forced into all fluids, purges carbon monoxide from the body, causes immediate oxygenation. (I. Boerema 1960)
  • Vasoconstriction: Without reducing oxygenation, can reduce compartment pressure, edema, swelling, (including intracranial pressure) and their sequella. (Jain, 1995)
  • Neovascularization/Osteo-Genesis: Delayed effects-(capillary angiogenesis; one to two weeks). Osteogenesis with certain hypoxic non-healing fractures.
  • Bactericidal: Directly to anaerobic organisms; apparently indirectly to aerobic organisms via increased WBC stimulation and as yet unknown actions.
    Immune System: Enhanced activation. (M. Reillo 1997)