Learn more about oxygen therapy for wounds.

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.

Long used to treat decompression sickness in deep-sea divers, HBOT  is also useful for promoting healing in wounds.

Learn more about HBO therapy and find a treatment facility nearest you by visiting the UPMC Wound Healing Services website or calling toll-free at 844-639-4712.

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What Is Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT) for Nonhealing Wounds?

If you have a nonhealing wound, Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT) for wound healing is a safe, non-invasive 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, and the ischemic nature means there’s not enough oxygen to the tissues themselves,” says Marc Mancinelli, DO, medical director, Wound Healing, UPMC Hamot.

“With hyperbaric oxygen, 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 and get a tour of the facility.

You receive treatment in a specialized clear acrylic chamber. These chambers offer an open feel and can accommodate patients of all mobility and sizes. They are designed for your comfort and include televisions for watching your favorite shows or movies and also allow you to enjoy your favorite music.

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, but just like being in an airplane, you can yawn or swallow multiple times to help ease that pressure. A trained technician and supervising provider will be available throughout your daily treatments to answer questions and ensure your safety.

“For those concerned about claustrophobic feelings, the clear, domed shape of the chamber helps ease the sense of closeness,” says Ann Clements, CRNP, UPMC Wound Healing Services.

HBOT is effectively used to treat a variety of nonhealing wounds. Sessions may last several hours and may be prescribed daily for 20 or more treatments (five days a week).

Many people are familiar with HBOT as a treatment for divers. It has been used to treat decompression sickness for over 80 years.

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 are tissues that may not be getting enough oxygen to heal properly. Most wounds do not have adequate amounts of oxygen in the tissue.

Typically, your red blood cells carry 21% oxygen, meeting normal tissue demands. However, when you undergo HBOT, the plasma that carries your red blood cells in the vessels becomes capable of transporting 100% oxygen. This helps to create new vessels in areas that need it most.

In addition, HBOT helps to reduce infections by killing anaerobic bacteria. It also helps to reduce 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/skin flaps.
  • Infections, such as chronic osteomyelitis (bone infections) and actinomycosis.
  • Delayed radiation injury.
    • 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.

“Ultimately, any wound that is lasting longer than usual may be a good candidate for HBOT,” Clements says. “So it’s important to talk to your physician about what treatment options are available.”

Learn more about HBOT and find a treatment facility nearest you by visiting the UPMC Wound Healing Services website or calling toll-free at 844-639-4712.

“Hyperbaric treatments can last from one hour to several hours, and this can be completed in one day to several weeks,” Dr. Mancinelli says. “However, we individualize the treatment program to each ailment that the patient possesses.”

Editor's Note: This article was originally published on , and was last reviewed on .

About UPMC

Headquartered in Pittsburgh, UPMC is a world-renowned health care provider and insurer. We operate 40 hospitals and 700 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.