Most people have heard of scuba divers entering hyperbaric chambers for emergency treatment of decompression sickness, also known as “the bends.” Lately, some athletes have also used the sealed chambers, claiming that breathing pure oxygen at high pressures for extended periods can heal sports injuries and improve musculoskeletal recovery.
But for each of those uses, many other individuals and patients have availed themselves of this type of therapy, known as HBOT or hyperbaric oxygen therapy, for more common medical conditions – and a growing list of such conditions, at that. HBOT for wound healing, for example, has become an important treatment in wound care and is the most prominent and common application of this expanding form of therapy. The branch of medicine that provides this HBOT for wounds and many other applications is called Hyperbaric Medicine. Lourdes Health System is pleased to offer hyperbaric medicine services at both of our hospital locations, at Our Lady of Lourdes Medical Center and at Lourdes Medical Center of Burlington County. Together, Lourdes is helping to lead the region in making this increasingly sought-after form of care available to patients in New Jersey.
What Is Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy?
Oxygen is essential to tissue healing in the body. “Hyperbaric” means “at greater than normal pressure.” During HBOT, patients breathe 100 percent oxygen inside a chamber with air pressure at greater than normal atmospheric pressure. Normally, the air we breathe contains only 21 percent oxygen. Vastly increased oxygen pressure in the lungs during HBOT-as a result of breathing pure oxygen under pressure-saturates red blood cells with oxygen molecules and, more importantly, dissolves extra oxygen molecules in the blood plasma. Thus, a significantly higher level of oxygen travels through the bloodstream to the rest of the body, including to injured organs and tissue, causing accelerated healing.
Treatment plans for undergoing HBOT vary according to individual, although most involve at least 20 sessions. Each therapy session-under full and careful medical supervision-typically lasts 90 minutes.
The hyperoxygenation that results from hyperbaric oxygen therapy enhances the body’s natural healing ability (by promoting growth of blood vessels and other tissue). It appears to also strengthen the immune system.
Effective For A Variety Of Uses
HBOT has a growing list of proven and approved uses and other newer or less-common applications. Among most widely accepted uses of HBOT, for which the therapy is applied commonly, are:
- wound healing (especially for problem wounds, such as foot ulcers related to diabetes);
- healing after trauma or surgery or both, including healing of skin grafts and skin flaps;
- bone infections called osteomyelitis;
- tissue damage from radiation therapy;
- carbon monoxide poisoning;
- and significant blood loss.
Because of the type of conditions to which hyperbaric medicine specialists apply HBOT, they may also work closely in patient care with other specialists in Heart & Vascular Care, pulmonary care, vascular surgery, cancer care, sports medicine, surgery and other specialty areas. In addition, they partner with primary practices, rehabilitation centers, and long-term and skilled-care facilities.
Wound-care patients may undergo surgical interventions, antibiotic therapy, and other types of care to address their chronic wounds in conjunction with HBOT. Consultation, collaboration and communication with referring physicians is very important for all types of patients.
Safety is also foremost in care at Lourdes hyperbaric facilities. The staff checks a variety of signs and parameters of the patient’s health status before the patient is cleared to enter a hyperbaric chamber at a therapeutic appointment. (Patients with severe heart failure and lung problems may not be candidates for HBOT, and pregnant women should undergo the therapy only in serious situations where no other options exist.)
During treatment, the staff invites and encourages patients to relax and breathe deeply. The staff works to create the type of calming environment that facilitates hyperoxygenation therapy.
Patients may experience ear popping or mild discomfort during pressurization and depressurization of the chamber. The discomfort usually disappears as the technician levels the pressure.
HBOT is relatively benign type of treatment, with few contraindications. A small portion patients experience mild claustrophobia; however, all chambers at the Lourdes centers are approximately eight feet long and three feet wide, and made of clear, plexiglass. This visibility afforded by this design contributes to the safety of the procedure, but also permits the patient to see outside the chamber, maintain visual contact with the technician or nurse at all times, and even watch television during the treatment. A staff member remains chamberside throughout the course of each patient’s treatment.
Other mild side effects, experienced by some patients, include fatigue and headache. The hyperbaric team may be able to reduce side-effects by adjusting the chamber pressure and the length of treatment. (Rare complications include myopia that can last for several weeks, sinus damage and ruptured middle ear.)
HBOT is a thoroughly tested, safe and typically painless therapy that has helped thousands of patients worldwide heal faster and better than ever before. Hyperbaric medicine at Lourdes is closely organized with Lourdes’s wound-care services.
Hyperbaric medicine is an adjunct-not a replacement-for other types of treatment. For example, hyperbaric medicine does not correct, or replace care for, conditions of the heart, lung, or blood vessels; but, it can help to address slow healing or other deficiencies related to those conditions.
Clincians specially trained in hyperbaric treatment staff Lourdes’ dedicated hyperbaric medicine units. Using the latest know-how, equipment, and techniques, the teams at these centers provide treatments the benefits of which cannot be found through other currently available means. They practice scrupulous safety procedures, maintain a clean treatment environment, and provide compassionate care.