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Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy

If you have a chronic wound, your physician may recommend hyperbaric oxygen therapy to jump-start the healing process. We offer this treatment for all types of non-healing wounds to help promote healing.

Healing for chronic wounds

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy can be a powerful treatment for wounds that don't get enough oxygen to heal. These wounds are often caused by radiation treatment for cancer, and by diabetes. Hyperbaric therapy temporarily increases the body's capacity to carry oxygen and helps the body grow new blood vessels. This makes it easier for tissue to repair itself and respond to other medical care.

Our highly skilled wound care staff uses hyperbaric oxygen therapy along with surgery and medication for non-healing wounds. We treat conditions including:

  • Compromised skin grafts or flaps
  • Crush injury
  • Diabetic foot wounds
  • Gas gangrene
  • Hard-to-manage infections
  • Non-healing osteomyelitis (bone infection usually caused by bacteria)
  • Radiation necrosis, a rare complication of radiation therapy for cancer that damages and kills bone and soft tissue
  • Soft tissue infections
  • Surgical wounds
  • Thermal burns

Conditions we treat

In hyperbaric oxygen therapy, you breathe pure oxygen in a pressurized environment. This therapy is used to treat a variety of conditions and diseases, ranging from chronic wounds and chronic bone infections to carbon monoxide poisoning, decompression sickness (typically associated with diving accidents), and many others.

  • Certain types of wounds, especially in the lower extremities, often fail to respond to normal medical treatments. Wounds that are caused by the loss of the microvascular bed, such as diabetic foot wounds, do not get adequate oxygen or the other blood factors necessary for healing to occur.

  • Some infections and diseases are caused by anaerobic bacteria that thrive in areas with little or no oxygen. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy can kill these bacteria by exposing them to high oxygen levels.

  • Radiation injury to tissues (radionecrosis, radiation necrosis, osteoradionecrosis) is a complication or side effect of radiation therapy for a tumor. This occurs because the radiation can damage normal cells as well tumor cells. Destruction of nutrient blood vessels in the irradiated area can result in local poor or non-healing wounds (ulceration), destruction of bone (necrosis) and bleeding.

  • Osteoradionecrosis is bone that has died as a complication of radiation therapy. It occurs because radiation inevitably destroys normal cells and blood vessels, as well as tumor cells. Damage to the small arteries reduces circulation to the area, depriving it of oxygen and other necessary nutrients. This process is gradual and may take many months or years to appear. If you require surgery to the affected area, the wound may not heal. Oxygen delivered at hyperbaric pressures has been shown to produce new blood vessels in the irradiated area and stimulate wound healing.

  • Gas gangrene and necrotizing fasciitis are acute infections that develop quickly and involve the skin and muscle tissue. These infections occur spontaneously, after an injury or following surgery. The bacteria that cause these infections thrive in areas with low oxygen levels, such as those that may occur in the tissues after injury or surgery. While many wounds have these bacteria in them only about 3 percent develop into an infection. The bacteria produce toxins that break down tissues and blood cells and can make a person sick very quickly. This process can be arrested with antibiotics, surgery and hyperbaric oxygen therapy.

  • When scuba divers come to the surface too fast, they can develop nitrogen bubbles in their blood cells—a condition called decompression sickness or "the bends." These bubbles can cause strokes and other severe health problems. Hyperbaric treatment can reduce the size of these bubbles and help them exit blood cells.

How hyperbaric oxygen therapy works

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy provides 100 percent oxygen in a pressurized chamber. This therapy increases the amount of oxygen in the blood to boost your body’s natural healing process.

The increased oxygen you breathe travels through your blood to your body’s tissues. The superoxygenated blood helps fight infection, decrease swelling and encourage growth of new blood vessels. Patients are usually in the chamber for several hours and often require multiple treatments—sometimes as many as 30 or 40. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy can help heal some types of wounds and infections in the following ways:

  • Diabetes and radiation therapy destroy blood vessels (capillaries). Increasing oxygen to the body helps new blood vessels grow in bone or soft tissue. With this growth, more blood vessels and more oxygen rich blood can reach the affected area. Certain types of chronic wounds can also benefit in this way.
  • Increased oxygen levels decrease the swelling (edema) around a wound site. Decreasing the swelling allows blood and oxygen to flow more freely to the area.
  • High oxygen levels increase the ability of the “infection fighting” cells (white blood cells) to kill any offending bacteria that may be in the area. This gives the wound a better chance of healing. While usually not a primary source of therapy, hyperbaric oxygen is used to treat bone infection.
  • Some bacteria cannot survive at high oxygen levels. They become dormant if exposed to the high levels that can be achieved with hyperbaric oxygen therapy. This applies to gas gangrene and some of the “flesh-eating” diseases.

The most common side effect of hyperbaric oxygen treatment is a brief fullness or popping sensation in your ears. Negative side effects are rare, and your physician will discuss them with you in detail before your treatment.

What to expect during hyperbaric oxygen therapy

Your hyperbaric oxygen therapy session has three phases:

  • Inside the chamber, you can hear the compression gas circulating. You may feel popping in your ears, similar to what you might feel when there’s a change in altitude, like when you drive in the mountains or fly in an airplane. During this process, a certified hyperbaric technician outside the transparent chamber communicates with you and adjusts the speed of compression for your comfort.

  • When the pressure reaches the prescribed level, your treatment begins. During this time, you may rest, sleep, listen to music or watch television.

  • The certified hyperbaric technician will let you know when the treatment is complete. He or she lowers the pressure at a rate that is comfortable to your ears.

Learn more

Talk to your primary care physician or provider if you believe you have a condition that may be improved through hyperbaric oxygen therapy.