What is Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy?
“Hyper” means an increase in the quantity or quality of something; “baric” means pressure. Combined with “oxygen,” these two terms add up to one of the most exciting new developments in medicine: hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT). Using pure oxygen under increased pressure, the body’s natural ability to heal from traumas, diseases and other afflictions is enhanced – and in many cases, is accelerated.
A Brief History
HBOT has been in use since the mid-1800s. It began when an anesthesiologist postulated that by increasing the levels of oxygen in operating rooms, patients would be able to heal faster. Unfortunately, while there were some modest benefits, HBOT began to be touted as a universal cure-all, and more. It was promised to do everything from restoring men’s hair to enlarging women’s breasts – yet it failed to deliver. This was the start of the “bad press” that HBOT received, some of which carries on to this day. The more accepted uses of HBOT through most of this century have been in relation to saving the lives of SCUBA divers stricken with decompression sickness, or “the bends” (a potentially fatal condition, that occurs when the diver returns to the surface too quickly).
During modern HBOT, the patient breathes pure, 100% oxygen under increased atmospheric pressure. The air we normally breathe contains only 19-21% of this essential element; via HBOT, the concentration of pure oxygen dissolved into the bloodstream is dramatically increased (up to 2,000%), with virtually no energy expenditure. In addition to the blood, all body fluids – including the vital lymph and cerebrospinal fluids – are infused with the healing benefits of this molecular oxygen. This oxygen can then: (a) reach bone and tissue which are inaccessible to red blood cells, (b) enhance white blood cell function, and (c) promote the formation of new capillary and peripheral blood vessels. The result is increased infection control, and faster healing of a wide range of conditions.
HBOT requires a prescription, and is approved by the American Medical Association (AMA), the Food & Drug Administration (FDA), and Medicare. It is typically used as part of an overall medical therapy plan, for various diseases or injuries associated with hypoxia, or a lack of oxygen on a cellular level. It is at this cellular tissue level where all life takes place. While HBOT is sometimes used as a primary emergency treatment, it is more often applied as a cost-effective adjunctive or enhancement therapy.
When administered by accredited physicians and highly trained technicians, HBOT is extremely safe and effective. New profit-oriented centers, however, have been increasing in number, and often do not have trained technicians or medical physicians on site. These centers should be avoided. While HBOT’s popularity is increasing in the United States, it is used much more extensively in Europe and the Orient.