What Is Hyperbaric Oxygen Treatment?


Abbreviated to HBOT, hyperbaric oxygen treatment is a type of treatment that’s used to speed up the healing process of injuries where oxygen could heal them. This treatment is often used for things like carbon monoxide poisoning, stubborn wounds, gas gangrene, or infections that are deprived of oxygen.


Hyperbaric oxygen therapy has been around for some time with the first use of it in the U.S. being around the 20th century. This method was employed when Orville Cunningham used the system to treat someone that was dying from the flu. Cunningham developed a hyperbaric chamber for the process, though he took it down after he found that treatment using this chamber failed for other conditions.

It was eventually picked up again in the 1940s when the U.S. Navy used it to treat deep-sea divers who had decompression sickness. It wasn’t until the 1960s when they discovered it as a method to deal with carbon monoxide poisoning.

Today it covers treatment for:

  • Carbon monoxide poisoning
  • Cyanide poisoning
  • Crush injuries
  • Gas gangrene (where gangrene is a gas that’s being collected in skin tissues)
  • Decompression sickness
  • Acute or traumatic inadequate blood flow in arteries
  • Compromised skin grafts and flaps
  • Bone infection
  • Delayed radiation injury
  • Flesh-eating disease
  • Air or gas bubbles in blood vessels
  • Chronic infection
  • And diabetic wounds that aren’t healing up at all or poorly.

How Does It Work?

HBOT works in four ways outlined below:

  • First it helps wound healing by bringing oxygen-rich plasma to tissue that’s deprived of oxygen. When dealing with wound injuries, these damage our body’s blood vessels, which results in released fluids that can leak into tissues and lead to swelling. This swelling then deprives the damaged cells in that area oxygen and the tissue begins to die.

    The idea with HBOT is to reduce that swelling with the pressure of the chamber changing depending on how much oxygen is needed. HBOT in this way aims to break the cycle of swelling, oxygen deprivation, and tissue death.

  • Second it prevents “reperfusion injury.” What this means is severe tissue damage that occurs when blood supply returns to the tissue after it’s been deprived of oxygen. When blood flow is interrupted by crush injury, for example, it sparks a series of events where the damaged cells release harmful oxygen radicals. These molecules damage the tissue further and the damage can’t be reversed. Worse it can block blood flow to that area in the future. HBOT deals with this and allows the healing process to continue.

  • Third, it blocks harmful bacteria and strengthens the immune system. This system can disable toxins of certain bacteria from releasing. Also with the boosted oxygen concentration can help in resisting infection. This therapy can also encourage white blood cells to destroy invaders.

  • Finally, it encourages the formation of new skin cells. How it does this is by encouraging new blood vessel formation. It also stimulates cells to produce specific substances. The specific substances attract and stimulate healing and growth.

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