What is Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy?
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) involves breathing increased levels of oxygen at higher than normal atmospheric pressure. There is roughly 21% oxygen in the air that we normally breathe, with the remainder comprising 78% nitrogen and small amounts of argon, carbon dioxide, neon, helium and hydrogen. When we inhale this air, the oxygen molecules attach to our red blood cells and are transported around the body. In HBOT, we increase oxygen to almost 100% and increase pressure around the body in our chamber. The increased pressure allows the additional oxygen to saturate the blood. These extra oxygen molecules are not bound to red blood cells, so they are free to diffuse into the body tissue, which stimulates and accelerates healing.
Why should I consider HBOT?
The most essential substance in the repair of any tissue is oxygen. The blood cannot store oxygen in the same way as it can other essential substances such as glucose. Therefore, when tissues are damaged, the blood supply to the damaged tissue is impaired and the time it takes to recover increases. Oxygen is essential for the metabolism of cells, and to maintain the walls of blood vessels to prevent plasma from leaking, which causes inflammation and bruising that further inhibits the cells ability to repair. Oxygen therapy has many health benefits, such as cell growth and regeneration, detoxification, immune support, new capillary growth and improved neurological function.
What happens when oxygen floods the body?
• Reduced inflammation, which is the root cause of pain, discomfort and other symptoms. • Reversal of hypoxia, which is low oxygen in your tissues, often occuring from injury and disease. • Elimination of bacteria, fungus and viruses, which are the source of infection. • Creation of new blood vessels, which facilitates continued healing after the treatment has finished. • Stimulated production of stem cells, both from bone marrow and neurologic tissue.
How quickly will it start to work?
We see positive effects from HBOT almost immediately. The anti-inflammatory properties of HBOT start to work from the moment the chamber door closes and the pressure starts to rise, making it ideal for recovery from acute injury and illness. When we apply HBOT in repeated succession we start to see a long-term, epigenetic response. This is where the oxygen starts to regulate pathways and we see an increase or reduction of genes in the DNA. It is in this epigenetic exposure that we see decreased inflammation, which is key to managing symptoms and providing relief.
What does a session involve?
You will be wearing an oxygen mask inside an enclosed chamber that seats several people. The chamber operator sits outside and can speak to you via an intercom. There are three stages to the session: Stage 1: Compression There will be some noise as air is pushed into the chamber and the pressure increases. It will get warmer and you will feel fullness in your ears similar to when flying in an airplane. Any noises and vibrations you hear are completely normal. Stage 2: Treatment On reaching the required pressure the chamber operator will notify clients that they are ‘at depth’. During treatment we monitor oxygen levels and temperature within the chamber. On occasion we may have to ‘flush’ the chamber to bring levels back to baseline. If so, the operator will notify you and you will once again hear noise similar to during compression. Stage 3: Decompression After the treatment time has elapsed the chamber operator will notify you that decompression is about to start. Again the chamber may make noises as the air escapes from valves to return to normal atmospheric pressure. You may also feel the temperature start to cool. Once the chamber is fully decompressed the operator will open the door for you to leave.
What does it feel like?
Similar to when flying, you will feel a fullness in your ears during compression and decompression. The sensation may feel a bit strange but it should not be painful. You can clear or 'pop' your ears by yawning or swallowing. The chamber operator and other users will also have tips to relieve pressure in your ears.
How long do sessions last and how many will I need?
You will be inside the chamber for 60-90 minutes each session. Depending on the specific nature of your condition you may only require a few sessions, for example following a sports injury. However, HBOT works cumulatively and more sessions will be needed to see an epigenetic response such as reducing chronic inflammation in a long term health condition. Much like going to the gym regularly to build your fitness levels and then moving into maintenance.
What should I wear?
Comfortable clothing is recommended as you will be seated for over an hour. The temperature inside the chamber can vary, so we usually recommend layers so that you have options to cool down or stay warm.
What can I do when I'm in the chamber?
We recommend you take something to help pass the time in the chamber. You can read a book or eBook, listen to music or watch something through earphones on a personal device or laptop. We do ask that you put your phone on silent and avoid making or accepting telephone calls inside the chamber.
What items cannot be taken into the chamber?
As a general rule, almost anything that can go on board an airplane can go into the chamber, however there are some exceptions to this, such as inhalers, sprays, hand warmers and sealed glass bottles. Our team will be able to provide you with advice on any specific items. You can take something to drink into the chamber, but we do not allow any food to be consumed, including chewing gum. We recommend sipping water to help ‘clear’ your ears during compression and decompression.
Are there occasions or conditions that are not suitable?
We will assess your individual suitability for HBOT prior to treatment. Most people tolerate being in the chamber very well, but there are some instances where we would not recommend oxygen therapy. Additional considerations may have to be made for people undergoing treatments for cancer or people with COPD. You should not go into the chamber if you have a cold, especially if this affects your ears or sinuses, as this may affect your ability to ‘pop’ your ears and equalise the pressure. If you have had sickness or diarrhoea you should wait until you are clear of symptoms for 48 hours. If you have any concerns, speak to a member of the team who will advise on whether you should proceed with treatment.
Can a friend or family member accompany me into the chamber?
We want you to feel comfortable and supported during treatment and can sometimes accommodate such requests. However, spaces within the chamber are limited and your companion would only be able to join you if sufficient space is available. There are occasions where we may recommend a companion, especially for children or people who may struggle to communicate should they be experiencing any difficulties in the chamber.
I am a wheelchair user, can I still go in the chamber?
We assist many of our members who use a wheelchair to access our chamber. Some wheelchairs may be too wide to fit through the chamber door, but we have a manual wheelchair in the Centre that we can transfer you to. Motorised wheelchairs are perfectly safe within the chamber, but please notify a member of the team beforehand.
What happens if I feel unwell or cannot stay in the chamber?
We always have a minimum of two trained chamber operators on site at any given time. They are in audible communication with clients inside the chamber at all times, and there are also portholes to see inside the chamber. If you are in distress, feeling unwell or unable to remain in the chamber for any reason, please alert the operator.
Can I take my medication into the chamber?
If the medication is a tablet or capsule, there is no problem taking this into the chamber with you. However, we discourage pressurised inhalers and sprays. Please check with the operator before entering the chamber.
Do I need a referral from a medical professional?
We are a self-referral organisation so this is not necessary, but we do recommend that you inform your Doctor that you are undertaking oxygen therapy.
Is HBOT safe?
Millions of treatment sessions have been carried out at local therapy centres in the UK for over 40 years without a single serious incident. As with any therapy there are always some risks, however hyperbaric chambers have an outstanding safety record. So much so, they were deregulated in 2008. The biggest risk is barotrauma, which is most likely to affect the ears, however we can give advice on techniques to avoid this.
Can I measure effectiveness of therapy with a pulse oximeter?
Pulse oximeters measure the percentage of oxygen attached to red blood cells. As HBOT allows increased oxygen to be dissolved into the blood, pulse oximetry cannot measure these additional free molecules. There is no simple clinical way to measure oxygen saturation while applying HBOT.