What Is Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy?
Did you know your wounds need sufficient amounts of oxygen to heal properly? If you have a nonhealing wound, your doctor may recommend hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) to help get the oxygen you need to heal damaged tissue.
HBOT has been used for many years to treat decompression sickness in deep-sea divers, but it is also useful for promoting healing in certain indicated wounds.
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What Is Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT) for Nonhealing Wounds?
If you have a nonhealing wound, HBOT is a safe, noninvasive treatment. It uses 100% oxygen delivered at higher-than-normal atmospheric pressure to help get more oxygen to the body’s tissues and accelerate the healing process.
Under these conditions, your lungs can gather much more oxygen than what would be possible breathing pure oxygen at normal air pressure.
“The idea is that most wounds have an ischemic nature, meaning there’s not enough oxygen getting to the tissues,” says Marc Mancinelli, DO, medical director of UPMC Wound Healing Services at UPMC Hamot. “With hyperbaric therapy, we can apply a supernormal level of oxygen not only to your red blood cells but to your plasma, and this, in turn, will help wound healing.”
What Is an HBOT Session Like?
Before treatment, you will receive an evaluation, get appropriate medical clearances, and take a tour of the facility.
Your treatment will take place in a large, specialized clear acrylic chamber. These chambers offer an open feel and can accommodate each patient’s preferences and needs. They are designed for your comfort and include media systems so you can watch your favorite shows or movies or enjoy your favorite music during treatment.
You should not wear jewelry or makeup on the day of treatment. Clinicians will ask you to wear a hospital gown and lie on a specialized bed that goes into the chamber. Once you are inside, the pressure slowly increases.
When the session is over, the chamber is slowly depressurized.
You may experience pressure in your ears during a session, similar to being on an airplane. Yawning or swallowing multiple times shoould help ease that pressure. A trained technician and supervising provider will be available throughout your treatment to answer your questions and ensure your safety.
“Hyperbaric treatments can last from one hour to several hours, and they can be completed in one day to several weeks,” Dr. Mancinelli explains. “However, we individualize the treatment program to each patient’s specific needs.”
Benefits of HBOT
There are many benefits to receiving HBOT. Breathing 100% oxygen combined with increased atmospheric pressure allows the bloodstream to carry more oxygen throughout the entire body.
HBOT also encourages the growth of new blood vessels in ischemic tissues, which may not have enough oxygen to heal properly. Most wounds do not have adequate amounts of oxygen in the tissue.
Typically, we breathe about 21% oxygen in our atmosphere at sea level, meeting normal tissue demands. When you undergo HBOT, however, the amount of oxygen available to the body is increased exponentially. This helps fill a deficiency at the tissue level and create new vessels in areas that need it most.
In addition, HBOT helps to reduce infections by killing certain bacteria and reducing tissue swelling (edema).
To receive the greatest benefit from hyperbaric oxygen therapy for a nonhealing wound, you’ll need multiple sessions. The exact number depends on the type of wound or condition you have, as well as your individual response to treatment.
Who Is a Candidate for HBOT?
A variety of conditions and types of wounds can benefit from HBOT, including:
- Compromised skin grafts or skin flaps.
- Infections, such as chronic osteomyelitis (bone infections) and actinomycosis (bacterial infections).
- Delayed radiation injury, including:
- Bony radiation injury, such as osteoradionecrosis, which mainly affects the jawbone in head and neck cancer patients.
- Soft tissue radiation wounds, where external tissue or internal organs are affected, such as the bladder (cystitis) or prostate (proctitis).
- Severe, nonhealing diabetic foot wounds.
- Vascular wounds.
- Nonhealing or chronic ulcers.
Editor's Note: This article was originally published on , and was last reviewed on . Medically reviewed by UPMC Wound Healing.
Headquartered in Pittsburgh, UPMC is a world-renowned health care provider and insurer. We operate 40 hospitals and 800 doctors’ offices and outpatient centers, with locations throughout Pennsylvania, Maryland, New York, West Virginia, and internationally. We employ 4,900 physicians, and we are leaders in clinical care, groundbreaking research, and treatment breakthroughs. U.S. News & World Report consistently ranks UPMC Presbyterian Shadyside as one of the nation’s best hospitals in many specialties and ranks UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh on its Honor Roll of America’s Best Children’s Hospitals. We are dedicated to providing Life Changing Medicine to our communities.