Under Pressure: Hyperbarics In Wound Healing


Atmospheric pressure and exposure to a key chemical element may not sound like the ideal mix for treating persistent wounds, but it’s actually one of medicine’s most long-standing and highly effective solutions.

The chemical element? Oxygen. And the method itself is known as hyperbaric oxygen therapy or hyperbaric medicine, which has long been used to address not just wounds, including skin grafts and burns, but also decompression sickness (common among divers), carbon monoxide poisoning and even anemia.

It’s a unique specialty not intended for every patient. But if you suffer from open wounds that refuse to heal, whether as a result of diabetes, radiation or other ailment, this could be your ideal road to wellness.

Understanding Hyperbaric Treatment

Hyperbaric treatments combine a stream of 100% oxygen, delivered inside a pressurized atmosphere (air pressure about three times greater than normal), to increase the amount of oxygen in your blood. The additional oxygen in turn triggers the release of growth factors, such as hormones and vitamins and stem cells, to promote and expedite healing from the inside-out.

According to J.R. Williams, II, MD, medical director of the Center for Wound Care & Hyperbarics at Methodist Hospital for Surgery: “Most chronic wounds are suffering from poor blood circulation and, therefore, poor oxygen delivery, which is immediately improved by hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) by forcing more than 100% oxygen into the tissues.”

Are You A Candidate for Hyperbarics?

Generally speaking, anyone dealing with a condition that could benefit from hyperbaric therapy is an ideal candidate. There are just a couple of things to keep in mind.

First, you must be able to withstand the pressure. Literally. Hyperbaric chambers do not utilize a painful degree of pressure, but it is greater than what is normally experienced—not unlike swimming to the bottom of a deep pool. Expect some ear popping and a little chest heaviness.

Second, those with lung or heart disease or with inner ear troubles may not do well in the hyperbaric environment. If these conditions prohibit you from hyperbaric therapy, your physician will certainly explain the why.

What To Expect During Treatment

Hyperbaric treatment sessions can last anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours and require only that you lie back, breathe normally and relax—you can even watch TV or listen to music. The chamber itself is a long, see-through tube that, once sealed, fills with pressurized oxygen. Following treatment, you may feel a little lightheaded or hungry, but the feeling passes quickly and treatment does not limit your performance in any way.

“Research proves that HBOT is a very beneficial advanced therapy in treating many types of wounds,” said Dr. Williams. “It is proven to advance wound healing, returning patients to a better quality of life.”

Don’t let stubborn wounds slow you down. Find out if hyperbaric therapy is right for your situation, and then take full advantage of this simple and painless procedure. If you’re curious to know more or have already been cleared to pursue treatment, be sure to contact the hyperbaric specialists at Methodist Hospital for Surgery.

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