In the last thirty days, one out of every two Americans took a prescription drug to treat a medical condition.
It’s no secret that over-the-counter prescriptions are at an all-time high. For the last forty years, the United States has lead the pack in worldwide pharmaceutical drug production, establishing an empire worth $392 billion dollars.
On one hand, the exponential growth of prescription drugs in the U.S. speaks to the number of medical advancements and disease treatment breakthroughs happening on a continued basis. However, with greater access to chemically altered substances, more and more medical professionals are turning to medicinal antidotes as the solution for complex and, at times, organically treatable problems.
A 2011 study reported that 73% of outpatient doctor’s visits resulted in the patient walking out with a prescription in hand.
As the use of prescription drugs continues to rise and we uncover further evidence of the long-term effects of corrective medication, an increased number of men and women are seeking an alternative solution for physical and neurological disabilities.
What if there was a treatment plan available that didn’t involve pharmaceutical drugs, invasive surgery, or the removal of any part of the body?
Since the early 30’s, hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) has been utilized by countless men, women and children seeking an alternative or supplementary medical treatment to over-the-counter drugs and invasive medical procedures. Originally developed by the military to treat those in the fields of deep-sea diving and aeronautics, HBOT is a combination of pressurized atmosphere and the inhalation of pure oxygen to promote widespread healing in the body through the oxidation and regeneration of cells.
Painless, gentle, and effective, HBOT is FDA-approved for the treatment of thirteen different illnesses, with success stories beyond the boundary of scientific endorsement being reported daily. For individuals living with chronic conditions such as diabetes and anemia, HBOT is capable of restoring life and functionality where past diagnosis would have indicated little to no hope of wellness.
Here is everything you need to know about how hyperbaric oxygen therapy can change your life for the better.
So, What Exactly Is Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy?
For many people with a severe or chronic medical condition, hyperbaric oxygen therapy is an effective, sustainable treatment.
While HBOT may seem like a relatively new treatment, celebrities and athletes have been utilizing and promoting HBOT for years. Professional athletes, including former NFL star Terrell Owen and Denver Branco’s Tim Tebow have spoken publicly about using hyperbaric oxygen therapy to expedite sport injury recovery. Michael Jackson was even said to sleep in a hyperbaric chamber every night.
Still, the basic science behind why HBOT works proves difficult and complex for many people to grasp.
By making information accessible and explaining the procedure in layman’s terms, HBOT may continue to be experienced and utilized by individuals seeking alternative medical treatments or desiring to supplement an existing one.
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT for short) is a medical treatment in which pure oxygen is inhaled for a prescribed period in the context of a clinical setting.
The oxygen is administered in pressurized chambers where patients breathe an atmospheric pressure up to three times higher than normal, ambient air.
During treatment, the amount of oxygen in the patient’s bloodstream increases significantly. In the pressurized atmosphere, oxygen molecules are delivered around the body at a rapid rate, absorbing into plasma, tissue, and major organs.
When oxygen reaches damaged tissues or swollen arteries, it stimulates the release of healing chemicals, allowing the body to produce new cells and regenerate itself from the inside out. By enabling the growth of new cells, HBOT has proven effective in treating wounds that normally wouldn’t heal due to poor circulation.
How Does Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy Work?
Oxygen makes up approximately 21% of every breath we breathe. In a hyperbaric setting, oxygen is inhaled exclusively.
While in a hyperbaric chamber, the flow of pure oxygen is partnered with an increased atmospheric pressure. The combination of oxygen and pressure causes a change in the way the body absorbs and distributes the inhaled air.
Under ambient conditions, only the hemoglobin found in the bloodstream carries oxygen around the body. During HBOT, the abundance of breathable oxygen causes absorption to happen beyond the hemoglobin. Oxygen is compressed, dissolved, and forced deep into the body’s tissues.
Because of this, areas in the body previously experiencing blocked or diminished circulation are granted access to oxygen-rich blood, and the body may organically jumpstart its healing process.
With an increase in medicinal usage, many hospitals are now able to administer HBOT to multiple patients at a time.
Medical spas, or individual medical practices, treat patients in single-person hyperbaric chambers that often look like cylindrical tanks.
In both hyperbaric environments, air pressure is increased several times higher than normal, and the patient breathes pure, concentrated oxygen.
What Are the Benefits of HBOT?
For years, hyperbaric oxygen therapy has been associated with the treatment of decompression sickness, also known as ‘the bends’. This condition strikes deep-sea divers who surface too quickly and don’t allow adequate time for the compressed air trapped in their joints to expand and safely re-enter the bloodstream.
Since its initial usage treating divers, HBOT has been tested and expanded as a treatment option for a wide variety of medical ailments.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved HBOT treatment for 13 conditions including non-healing wounds, stroke, carbon monoxide poisoning, burns, and ischemia, amongst many others.
Although not FDA-approved for the following uses, extensive medical research suggests that hyperbaric oxygen therapy is also a powerful neurotherapeutic treatment for brain repair and can help patients suffering from autism, epilepsy, traumatic brain injury, multiple sclerosis, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), Alzheimer’s disease, and many other neurological disabilities.
As users of all ages continue to experience the benefits of HBOT, it is expected to continue increasing in popularity.
Medical research and clinical trials have proven HBOT to be effective for a number of medical problems. Below is a list of eleven uses and benefits to pursuing HBOT as a treatment option, both clinically and in a home environment.
11 Ways Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy Can Change Your Life
1. Air or Gas Embolism
For decades, hyperbaric oxygen therapy has been the primary treatment for air and gas embolism.
Air and gas embolism occurs when air bubbles improperly enter arteries or veins. Left untreated, air bubbles can cause extensive internal damage, obstructing blood flow and damaging the heart, brain, and other vital organs.
In some cases, this can be fatal.
The increased atmospheric pressure inside an HBOT chamber reduces the size of bubbles, allowing them to dissolve into the bloodstream and be removed from the body safely. Beyond this, oxygen-rich blood expels nitrogen bubbles.
Most frequently, gas embolism is caused by events of rapid decompression. This is more often seen in cases of divers who surface too quickly, causing the compressed air in their bodies to expand at a rapid rate. Rapid decompression can also be experienced in other depressurization situations, such as flying in an unpressurized aircraft.
2. Hypoxia (lack of oxygen)
Many doctors will say if the oxygen-carrying capacity of a patient’s blood is normal, the patient does not need auxiliary oxygen. However, many chronically ill individuals live in a state of ongoing hypoxia - meaning that there isn’t enough oxygen reaching their cells.
Hypoxia may be generalized, affecting the whole body, or local, affecting only a region of the body. Blue-ish fingers and toes are a hallmark of hypoxia due to poor circulation, and individuals suffering from under-oxygenation are likely to exhibit this symptom even at the onset of the condition.
Common causes of hypoxia are heavy smoking, diabetes-related tissue damage, and poor circulation - all conditions which affect the body’s ability to carry and distribute oxygen where it is needed most.
HBOT can also be effective in cases of prolonged cerebral hypoxia, a condition in which the brain is obstructed from receiving adequate oxygen.
Anemia refers to the lack of red blood cells in the body. Because of an insufficiency in red blood cells, the bloodstream is hindered from carrying enough oxygen to the body’s tissues. This deficiency most frequently causes fatigue, pallor, and weakness.
Anemia is one condition in which the benefits of HBOT can truly shine. To counter-affect the nature of anemia, an increase in oxygen is necessary. Because the nature of HBOT is the increased distribution of oxygen into hemoglobin, plasma and tissue, individuals suffering from anemia often find remarkable, sustainable results after repeated sessions of hyperbaric therapy.
4. Brain Infections
Brain infections, also known as intracranial abscesses, are caused by an accumulation of puss within the confines of the skull.
Depending on the location of the abscess and the severity of inflammation, brain infections can cause mild to severe symptoms that, left untreated, could potentially lead to coma or death.
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy can be a powerful tool to displace intracranial abscesses when used together with surgery and antibiotic therapy. The bacteria which lead to brain puss are anaerobic - meaning they thrive in a low-oxygen environment. At an ATA level of 1.5 or higher, HBOT prevents bacteria from replicating and spreading within the body. This also allows a reduction in intracranial swelling.
Beyond treatment for a pre-existing abscess, supplemental oxygen boosts the body’s natural defense against bacteria and other anaerobic organisms, giving patients a better chance of preventing regrowth or any kind of initial bacterial build-up.
5. Traumatic Injuries
Traumatic injuries can lead to muscle swelling and neurologic problems, especially for individuals living with damage sustained from car accidents, whiplash, falling, or prolonged obesity. Damaged blood vessels are also common by-products of such trauma, and complications may include non-healing wounds, infections, and amputations.
Oxygen therapy enhances the circulation of oxygenated blood to damaged tissues and promotes the growth of new blood vessels, making it a valuable treatment option for traumatic injury patients.
Numerous studies and clinical trials have shown that HBOT is effective in treating wounds that normally would not heal because of poor blood circulation. The pure oxygen and increased atmospheric pressure not only increases the supply of oxygen to all damaged tissues, but can also reduce excess fluid, improving blood flow to damaged areas.
6. Skin Grafts
Skin grafting - a medical procedure involving skin transplantation in the event of severe burns or injury - is another trauma procedure which can greatly benefit from the implementation of HBOT.
Skin grafts require healthy, oxygenated environments to appropriately heal. In the event of poor circulation, the body may reject the skin transplant or lengthen its healing time significantly.
HBOT can be used not only to prepare the wounded area before the transplant, but to assist in the healing of the wound following the transplant. HBOT is widely regarded as an extremely effective treatment option for slow-healing wounds, due to the nature of oxygen exposure and the promotion of new cell creation within the body.
7. Radiation Damage
Radiation therapy can be highly effective as a form of treatment for patients undergoing rehabilitation from cancer.
Because radiation kills cancerous cells and prevents illness from spreading throughout the body, it continues to be the most sought-after solution to combat cell mutation.
However, due to its aggressive nature and inability to differentiate between healthy and unhealthy cells, radiation also damages the blood vessels that feed our body's good cells. According to scientific research, around 15% of cancer patients can experience chronic complications following radiation treatment, including but not limited to tooth decay, nausea, and difficulty breathing.
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy may prove effective to counteract the damage accumulated after radiation therapy by assisting the body in growing new capillaries while enhancing the body’s ability to generate new cells faster in the affected areas.
8. Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
Just like oxygen, carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless gas. If oxygen means life, carbon monoxide can lead to death by poisoning. When inhaled, carbon monoxide glues to hemoglobin, preventing it from carrying oxygen to cells and tissues.
Carbon monoxide poisoning is best treated with supplemental oxygen. HBOT forces additional oxygen deep into the blood plasma, blocking CO’s toxicity and restoring viability to all areas of the body.
9. Diabetic Foot Ulcers
For people with diabetic foot ulcers, HBOT can mean the difference between being able to walk and being disabled for the remainder of their lives.
According to one study, about 15% of people with diabetes will develop a foot ulcer in their lifetimes.
Oxygen therapy can not only treat diabetic foot ulcers, but also prevent them from forming. Poor blood circulation and nerve damage are usually the causes that lead to ulcers, and the saturation of oxygen in the bloodstream allows the body both a great offence and defense to nerve damage.
Oxygen therapy administered in adjunction with antibiotics can be a viable treatment plan for diabetic patients, helping to reduce the risk of wounds and the necessity of amputation.
In the event of stroke, oxygen is the primary substance the brain is deprived of. When not enough oxygen gets to the brain, the intracranial tissues begin to die, leading to permanent damage and loss of function.
In the ever-progressing field of medicine, neurologists now accept that the oxygen-starved brain tissues do not die immediately; instead, they sustain trauma, and it is possible for this trauma to be reversed.
When given the right dose of oxygen, damaged brain tissue can function up to eight hours after death.
According to one study, in the late 1990s, three Dutch neuroscientists brought the brain cells of thirty deceased persons back to life by the administration of oxygen to the cells in the brain.
If you or a loved one have recently sustained tissue damage due to stroke or lack of adequate blood flow to the brain, consider pursuing HBOT as a treatment option to revitalize traumatized tissue and boost the production of new cells.
11. Autism & Other Neurological Disorders
The use of hyperbaric oxygen therapy to treat neurological disabilities like autism, Parkinson’s disease, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, and cerebral palsy is fairly controversial. This is due in large part to the absence of FDA-approval for using HBOT as a treatment plan.
However, this doesn’t mean HBOT is without its benefits.
The FDA gives its approval to medical treatments and procedures only after conducting extensive research into the treatment being evaluated. Due to the expansive application of HBOT and the varied complexities of neurological disorders, the FDA has yet to partner with doctors to develop and approve HBOT as a proven method for various types of rehabilitation.
This means that although there is a lack of FDA-back research into the application of HBOT, people are still able to experience positive, life-changing results while undergoing hyperbaric treatment.
One complicating factor of autism spectrum disorder is the brain’s lack of activity when stimulated with sensory or auditory input. This is partly due to increased swelling in the capillaries of the brain. Because HBOT works by reducing swelling and delivering oxygen to poorly circulated areas, there are numerous reported cases in which a child with autism has achieved previously unattainable levels of speech, play, and mental responsiveness.
Although it is unlikely that insurance will cover HBOT treatment in cases of neurological disability or any other non-FDA approved illness, individuals can still consult their doctor for a prescription to undergo HBOT in a clinical setting, as well as prescriptive approval to purchase an in-home mHBOT unit.
Nonmedical Applications of HBOT
One versatile element of hyperbaric oxygen therapy is that it is not strictly limited to medical applications.
Men and women of all ages use HBOT for cellular regeneration, promotion of blood flow, and to speed up the process of recovering from sports injuries.
Have you noticed the way your skin glows after exercising? This change occurs when cells and tissues have been bathed in oxygen-rich blood. Healthy circulation can help keep skin youthful and vibrant. Likewise, muscular strain and overextension can be remedied by the improvement of oxygen-rich blood filtering through places of trauma.
With HBOT, oxygen can enter into every tissue of the body and brain. This can mean a reduction in wrinkles, age spots, damaged skin cells, and sagging skin, along with shorter recovery times between sports injuries.
Another non-medical condition HBOT is sometimes used for is the treatment of moderate to severe hangovers. Because oxygen is pushed deep into the tissues during hyperbaric treatment, HBOT can alleviate migraines, fatigue, and nausea - symptoms all commonly associated with heavy drinking.
Is HBOT Safe?
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is not a cure-all for any and every medical condition. In order to be most effective, HBOT must be prescribed by a doctor who specifically understands what the user’s body needs.
Similarly, the hyperbaric treatment must be administered in a clinical environment, under medical supervision.
Although there are minor risks, HBOT is safe. The most common side effects are sinus and barotrauma caused by the shift in pressure - not unlike the pressure one would experience during the ascent and descent of a commercial flight. Patients can learn different techniques to help clear the ear during compression and decompression, and prevent discomfort during treatment.
In closing, the goal of this (and all other articles on this site) is to impart knowledge. Understanding the purpose for which something may be used, along with insight into its history and physical effects, can help potential HBOT users make well-informed decisions as to whether or not HBOT is a preferable option for them and their loved ones.
It is without a doubt that HBOT can significantly improve the quality of people’s lives. Where traditional medicine fails, hyperbaric oxygen therapy can supercharge the body’s ability to heal itself. Perhaps this is why around 2,000 hospitals across the country now offer hyperbaric oxygen therapy, and an estimated 700 non-hospital based programs offer the treatment as well.
At RehabMart, we are passionate about connecting people with the resources necessary to help them make informed, knowledgeable decisions regarding various treatment options.
To continue learning more about hyperbaric oxygen therapy, read RehabMart's Ultimate Guide to Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy, our Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy FAQ, and browse the leading brands of hyperbaric chambers with our comprehensive Hyperbaric Chamber Brand List.
Hulet Smith, OTR/L
Co-founder/CEO of Rehabmart, Pediatric Occupational Therapist, husband, and father. Passionate about connecting special needs kids with superb nutrition, sensory integration, and complementary health strategies. Excited about Rehabmart's mission to become the premier online educational platform which empowers caregivers by spotlighting innovative devices and interventions to achieve optimal patient response and recovery.
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