Hyperbaric oxygen therapy or, 'HBOT,' involves breathing pure oxygen within a sealed chamber that is pressurized at between one and a half and three times the average atmospheric pressure.
Research into the use of HBOT has shown it is effective when it is used along with more conventional forms of treatment for the prevention of, 'osteoradionecrosis,' or delayed bone damage caused by radiation therapy. Some evidence suggests that HBOT might be useful as an additional form of treatment for soft-tissue injury caused by radiation. There is; however, no evidence that it cures cancer. The FDA has approved HBOT for the treatment of brain abscess, gangrene, decompression sickness, as well as injuries involving tissues which are not receiving enough oxygen. HBOT is also used in conjunction with conventional forms of treatments for severe carbon monoxide poisoning, skin infections, specific types of injuries and wounds, and particular types of brain or bone infections.
There have been claims made that HBOT does cure cancer. Other claims suggest that it destroys disease-causing microorganisms, can decrease the allergy symptoms a person is experiencing, and alleviate chronic fatigue syndrome. Some supporters of HBOT have made claims that the treatment can help people with arthritis, AIDS, autism, cerebral palsy, cirrhosis, stroke, gastrointestinal ulcers, Lyme disease, or sports injuries. Scientific evidence does not support these claims at this time and the FDA considers oxygen to be a drug. From the FDA's perspective, oxygen must be prescribed by a doctor or other licensed health care professional for the treatment of a health condition or illness.
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy may help with healing wounds, particularly those that are infected, and assist them to heal more rapidly. HBOT might be used to treat the following:
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy treatments related to chronic conditions can be repeated over periods of days to weeks. An average treatment session for an acute condition might take longer, yet may not be repeated.
Treatment with Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy
Treatment with HBOT can be performed in either single-person chambers, or ones that can hold multiple people. Single-person chambers are referred to as, 'monoplace,' and are comprised of a clear plastic tube around seven feet in length. A person lies down on a padded table that is slid into the tube. The person is asked to relax and breath as they usually would while the tube is then slowly pressurized with pure oxygen.
The pressure in the HBOT chamber commonly rises to two and a half times the average atmospheric pressure. People within the chamber can experience popping in their ears and mild discomfort, but it usually disappears once the pressure is lowered slightly. Once the HBOT session has ended, a process that may take anywhere from a half hour to two hours, the chamber is slowly depressurized.
After experiencing an HBOT session, people many times feel tired and somewhat lightheaded. The majority of health insurance policies do cover HBOT sessions that are medically-approved. Monoplace chambers are less expensive to operate than chambers for several people; they are also fairly portable. Both Medicaid and Medicare have started covering medically-approved HBOT sessions.
Evidence in Support of Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy
Strong scientific evidence suggests that HBOT is an effective form of treatment for arterial gas embolism, decompression sickness, and carbon monoxide poisoning. Additional evidence suggests it can assist with radiation-induced soft-tissue injuries, carbon monoxide poisonings that are less severe, crushing injuries, anemia caused by severe blood loss, osteomyelitis, and wounds that are healing poorly. Evidence surrounding HBOT's ability to help with treating fast-spreading infections of the skin and underlying tissues, as well as burns, remains an area of conflicting opinions.
A lack of clinical studies that are randomized is making it difficult to determine the value of hyperbaric oxygen therapy in relation to a number of claims. The amount of scientific evidence currently available does not support claims that HBOT destroys germs, improves allergy symptoms, or stops the growth of cancer cells.
There is also not enough evidence to support claims that HBOT helps people with:
Currently, there are scientific studies occurring that are carefully controlled and have the goals of finding out if HBOT can assist with lymphedema, a condition that can happen after radical mastectomy and other forms of treatments in which a person's lymph nodes are either irradiated or removed entirely. The studies are also examining the benefits of HBOT in relation to heart attacks, diabetic ulcers, and a number of other conditions.
Complications of Hyperbaric Oxygen Treatments
Some of the more mild issues associated with HBOT treatments include fatigue, claustrophobia, and headache. More serious complications may include myopia or, 'short-sightedness,' a condition that has the potential to last for weeks or even months, as well as lung damage, sinus damage, or possibly even a ruptured middle-ear. One complication, oxygen toxicity, may result in fluid in the person's lungs, respiratory failure, or seizure activity. People who are at a high risk of oxygen toxicity might be given, 'air breaks,' where they breath regular air instead of pure oxygen for short periods of time during HBOT treatments.
People who have certain forms of lung disease can be at a higher risk of experiencing a collapsed lung during an HBOT session. People with severe congestive heart failure might experience a worsening of their symptoms by the treatments. Women who are pregnant should pursue HBOT treatments only in serious situations where no other options are available. Treatment chambers also present a fire hazard. In fact - fires and explosions in HBOT chambers have killed around eighty people around the world.
Hyperbaric oxygen treatments as a whole are fairly safe for approved medical conditions. The complications associated with HBOT treatments can be reduced if the pressures inside the chambers remain below three times the normal atmospheric pressure and the sessions themselves do not last in excess of two hours. Relying on HBOT treatments while either delaying or avoiding more conventional forms of treatments for cancer can have serious health consequences.
Hyperbaric Oxygen Treatment History
Orville Cunningham, in the early 1900's, noticed that people who had some forms of heart diseases had better health if they lived nearer to sea level instead of living at higher altitudes. Orville successfully treated a friend who had the flu and was close to dying from lung restriction; he went on to develop a hyperbaric chamber. His attempts to treat other forms of conditions failed, his method was abandoned, and his chamber was scrapped.
The 1940's found the military developing HBOT chambers to treat deep-sea divers with decompression sickness. By the 1950's, HBOT treatment was used for the first time during heart and lung surgery. The 1960's found HBOT treatment being used for carbon monoxide poisoning. Since then, hyperbaric oxygen treatment has been studied and used as a form of treatment for several health applications. The treatment has been the subject of a large amount of controversy due to the lack of scientific proof supporting the numerous additional uses people have suggested it is valuable for.
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