From the moment we take our first breath, we know at a cellular level that we need oxygen to breathe.
Oxygen is responsible for our survival, present in every day to day, and is a key element in our body’s energy production—by the breaking down of the sugars and fatty acids in our cells. Yet, only around 21% of the air we breathe is made of oxygen, with a large portion made of nitrogen. Or, to be more precise, around 78% of the air we breathe is made of nitrogen, 21% oxygen, with the remaining fraction made up from other gases, such as Argon, neon, helium and carbon dioxide.
There is, amazingly, a condition called oxygen toxicity, which is when we breathe a high amount of oxygen in a prolonged time and overwhelm the ability of our cells to carry oxygen from the lungs.
Still, it has been known throughout history that oxygen has been used to remedy a number of illnesses if conducted in a specific method and under a specific condition.
But What Exactly Is Oxygen Therapy?
Most people are familiar with the oxygen mask inserted over mouth and nose on a patient undergoing surgery, or with respiratory difficulties, or vascular problems and so on.
The oxygen treatment discussed in this article is not the mask inserted over nose and mouth, but a more complicated procedure that uses pressurized atmosphere within a closed chamber.
Why a Pressurized Atmosphere?
Because the hemoglobin (the oxygen carrier in the body) is around 98% saturated in ambient atmospheric pressure, increasing the amount of oxygen breathed while maintaining ambient atmosphere will make little difference in the body—that is, the hemoglobin won’t be able to carry more oxygen because it’s already full to capacity. Consequently, because the hemoglobin can’t bind the extra oxygen, breathing oxygen in ambient atmosphere without the care of a medical provider can do harm to the lungs, as the oxygen will overwhelm the lungs if exposure goes unchecked for too long.
A simpler explanation is a person in ambient atmosphere will breathe around 21% oxygen. If a room is pressurized and the atmospheric level doubled, the person will breathe double that amount of oxygen molecules, that is, around 42% oxygen. It is also true that if atmospheric pressure is tripled, a person will breathe triple the amount of oxygen molecules, and so on.
For that reason, oxygen treatment is conducted in a compressed room with higher atmospheric pressure, called Hyperbaric Oxygen Chamber.
Oxygen therapy or Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT) is a treatment where the patient enters a compressed room and breathes 100% oxygen for a certain amount of time, repeated over a certain amount of days or weeks, depending on the patient’s condition.
Hyperbaric Oxygen Treatment was primarily used for divers suffering from decompression sickness—a condition that occurs when a diver surfaces too fast (and doesn’t give the body time to adjust to atmospheric changes), causing the bloodstream to release nitrogen gas and form bubbles in the blood.
HBOT has been used safely to treat divers suffering from decompression sickness since the 1930’s, both commercially and military.
Studies have evolved since the 1930’s and HBOT is now being used to treat a number of illness, such as serious infections; wounds that won’t heal because of diabetes or radiation treatment; carbon monoxide poisoning; cyanide poisoning; severe burns; diabetic foot; Alzheimer’s; autism; cerebral palsy; traumatic brain injury; rapid healing of athletic injuries, to name a few.
But Why Exactly Oxygen?
Tissues in the body need a certain amount of oxygen to function properly. Consequently, an injured tissue needs a greater amount of oxygen to heal and fight infections.
In the Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy, a person breathing 100% oxygen in a pressurized atmosphere stimulates the body’s production of stem cells, growth factors and helps the body fight bacteria, all of which promotes healing.
In North America, Undersea and Hyperbarical Medical Society (UHMS) has approved around fourteen conditions that can be treated with hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy.
These conditions are:
Air or Gas Embolism; Carbon Monoxide (CO) Poisoning/CO Poisoning Complicated by Cyanide Poisoning; Gas Gangrene; (Clostridial Myositis and Myonecrosis); Crush Injury; Compartment Syndrome and Other Acute Traumatic Ischemias; Decompression Sickness; Arterial Insufficiencies; Severe Anemia; Intracranial Abscess; Necrotizing Soft Tissue Infections; Refractory Osteomyelitis; Delayed Radiation Injury; Compromised Grafts and Flaps; Acute Thermal Burn Injury; Idiopathic Sudden Sensorineural Hearing Loss.
Some of the world’s leaders in hyperbaric research and treatment application such as China, Japan, Sweden, and Russia have approved three times more than what the U.S and Canada have.
These conditions are:
Lyme Disease; Chronic Fatigue Syndrome; Shingles/Herpes Zoster; Rheumatological Conditions; Scleroderma and Raynaud’s Phenomenon; Multiple Sclerosis; Type 1 Diabetes; Psoriasis; Arthritis; Pyoderma Gangenosum
Autism; Inflammatory Bowel Disease (Chron’s/Colitis); Peripheral Artery Disease, Peripheral Vascular Disease
Cancer (General); Multiple Myeloma
Headache; Calciphylaxis/Calcific Uremic Arteriolopathy; Stevens-Johnson syndrome; Livedoid Vasculopathy; Venous Stasis Ulcer; Pressure Ulcer/Decubitus Ulcer
Stroke; Traumatic Brain Injury and PTSD in Veterans; Epilepsy; Post-Concussion Syndrome; Alzheimer’s disease
Erythromelalgia; Complex Regional Pain Syndrome/Reflex Sympathetic; Dystrophy; Peripheral Neuropathy; Degenerative Disc Disease/Back Pain; Fibromyalgia
Glaucoma; Macular Degeneration; Macular Edema
Periodontal Disease; Dental Implants; BRONJ
Diabetes Mellitus Type 2
While some researchers claim HBO treatment can help treat cancer, the American Cancer Society (ACS) states available evidence doesn’t support this theory mainly because the area around a tumor has little blood flow.
Pros and Cons of Hyperbaric Oxygen Treatment
As with every other treatment, HBO treatment has its lists of pros and cons, as different variables can interfere, directly or indirectly with the success of such treatment.
Some of these side effects can occur during or after a session of Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy, some more severe than others.
Some potential side effects of HBO treatment are:
- Lung damage
- Ear pain
- Oxygen poisoning
The oxygen treatment varies from one person to the next, according to the condition they wish to treat and the patient’s health issues. Time spent inside the chamber is determined for each individual by the physician, who takes into consideration all health issues, overall health, and age.
Can Anyone Undergo HBO Treatment?
No. people who have had a recent ear infection or surgery, have lung problems, a cold or fever shouldn’t undergo Hyperbaric Oxygen Treatment and should consult a doctor if any of the above occurs prior to a scheduled session.