Hyperbaric Medicine

Used for carbon monoxide poisoning, gangrene and stubborn wounds, hyperbaric medicine uses high pressure and 100% oxygen to help your body heal.

Putting the healing power of oxygen to work for you.

A Healing Focus

Your body's tissues need an adequate supply of oxygen to function and when tissue is injured, it requires even more oxygen to survive. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy increases the amount of oxygen your blood can carry. An increase in blood oxygen temporarily restores normal levels of blood gases and tissue function to promote healing and fight infection. At INTEGRIS, we have an expert team of specially trained physicians, surgeons, nurses and support staff who understand the many factors that may be delaying or preventing the healing of wounds. Our certified teams perform a complete history and physical exam to develop an individualized treatment plan unique to your specific medical needs.

Oklahoma’s Leader in Hyperbaric Medicine

In 1989, INTEGRIS Baptist Medical Center became the first hospital in Oklahoma to have a hyperbaric oxygen chamber, an airtight chamber in which the patient's body is placed under increased atmospheric pressure. The chamber was designed to hold one patient at a time. Since then, INTEGRIS Southwest Medical Center has also adopted this technology. In March 1995, INTEGRIS Baptist installed the state's largest hyperbaric oxygen chamber, one capable of treating 12 patients at a time. More than 500 patients – the youngest, 5 months old and the oldest, 92 years old – have received therapy in the new chamber.

What Is Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy?

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy involves breathing pure oxygen in a pressurized room or tube. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is a well-established treatment for decompression sickness, a hazard of scuba diving. It is also a type of treatment used to speed up healing of carbon monoxide poisoning, gangrene, stubborn wounds, and infections in which tissues are starved for oxygen.

In a hyperbaric oxygen therapy chamber, the air pressure is increased to three times higher than normal air pressure. Under these conditions, your lungs can gather more oxygen than would be possible breathing pure oxygen at normal air pressure. Your blood carries this oxygen throughout your body. This helps fight bacteria and stimulate the release of substances called growth factors and stem cells, which promote healing. If you undergo this therapy, you will enter a special chamber to breathe in pure oxygen in air pressure levels 1.5 to 3 times higher than average. The goal is to infuse the blood with enough oxygen to repair tissues and restore normal body function.

Conditions Treated

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is used to treat several medical conditions. Your doctor may suggest hyperbaric oxygen therapy if you have one of the following conditions:

  • Carbon monoxide poisoning
  • Diabetic wounds
  • Crush injuries
  • Gas gangrene (a form of gangrene in which gas collects in tissues)
  • Decompression sickness
  • Inadequate blood flow in the arteries, including those supplying problem wounds or the retina during central retinal arterial occlusion (this is a blockage of a blood vessel in one eye that can cause sudden vision loss)
  • Compromised skin grafts and flaps
  • Infection in a bone (osteomyelitis)
  • Delayed radiation injury
  • Flesh-eating disease (also called necrotizing soft tissue infection)
  • Air or gas bubble trapped in a blood vessel (air or gas embolism)
  • Conditions that cause insufficient oxygen levels to reach the body's tissues
  • Skin infections that are causing the tissues to die
  • Burns

Understanding Hyperbaric Medicine

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy helps wound healing by bringing oxygen-rich plasma to tissue starved for oxygen. Wound injuries damage the body's blood vessels, which release fluid that leaks into the tissues and causes swelling. This swelling deprives the damaged cells of oxygen, and tissue starts to die. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy reduces swelling while flooding the tissues with oxygen—the elevated pressure in the chamber can produce a 10 to 15-fold increase in the amount of oxygen in the blood. It aims to break the cycle of swelling, oxygen starvation, and tissue death.

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy prevents "reperfusion injury." That's the severe tissue damage that occurs when the blood supply returns to the tissues after they have been deprived of oxygen. When blood flow is interrupted by a crush injury, for instance, a cascade of events inside the damaged cells leads to the release of harmful oxygen radicals. These molecules can do irreversible damage to tissues and cause the blood vessels to clamp up and stop blood flow. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy encourages the body's oxygen radical scavengers to seek out the problem molecules and thus allow healing to proceed.

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy helps block the action of harmful bacteria and strengthens the body's immune system. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy can inactivate the toxins of certain bacteria and it also increases oxygen concentration in the tissues, which helps them resist infection. In addition, the therapy improves the ability of white blood cells to find and destroy invaders.

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy encourages the formation of new collagen (connective tissue) and new skin cells. It does so by encouraging new blood vessel formation. It also stimulates cells to produce certain substances, like vascular endothelial growth factor, which attract and stimulate endothelial cells necessary for healing.

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy uses two types of chambers:

  • Monoplace chamber: This is a chamber built for one person. It's a seven-foot-long clear plastic tube that resembles an MRI machine. The patient slips into the device, which is slowly pressurized with 100 percent oxygen.
  • Multiplace chamber: This chamber, or room, can fit two or more people at once. The treatment is largely the same, except that people breathe pure oxygen through masks or hoods.

Only a doctor or health provider should prescribe hyperbaric oxygen therapy. A number of hospitals offer hyperbaric oxygen chambers, where people relax, sit, or lie comfortably and take deep breaths in sessions that last up to two hours.

Your ears may feel plugged as the pressure is raised, just as when you're in an airplane or the mountains. Simple swallowing or chewing gum will "pop" the ears back to normal hearing levels.

Your blood carries the extra oxygen throughout the body, infusing the injured tissues that need more oxygen so they can begin healing. When a session is complete, you may feel lightheaded. Mild side effects include claustrophobia, fatigue, and headaches.

Several sessions may be needed, so check beforehand to see whether your insurance company or Medicare covers the cost.

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is not for everyone. It should not be used by people who have a pacemaker, a cold or fever, heart failure, or certain types of lung disease. It is also not recommended for people taking chemotherapy drugs or for pregnant women unless they are in grave danger and have no other options.

The most common complication after hyperbaric oxygen therapy is trauma to the middle ear. Other possible complications are eye damage and sinus problems. In rare, severe cases, a person can get oxygen toxicity, which can lead to seizures, fluid in the lungs, lung failure or other problems. Considering the potential risks and benefits, the decision to use hyperbaric oxygen therapy must be carefully made after a detailed discussion with your doctor.

The best way to protect yourself against possible hazards of hyperbaric oxygen therapy is to be treated in a hospital setting with trained medical personnel. The doctor directing your therapy should have a minimum of 40 hours training from the Undersea and Hyperbaric Medical Society – ask to see his or her certificate of completion for the course.

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy use in other places besides hospitals is largely unregulated. Although you can find reputable clinics, some practitioners take advantage of patients desperate for a cure for themselves or their children. Remember, no scientific evidence says that hyperbaric oxygen therapy benefits people with cancer, AIDS, cerebral palsy, or autism, among other conditions, so beware of anyone making these claims.

In addition, some chiropractors and clinics use portable fabric hyperbaric oxygen therapy chambers, the routine use of which, experts say, poses a serious fire and explosion hazard. Fires or explosions associated with the use of hyperbaric chambers have been linked to approximately 80 deaths worldwide. Today, hyperbaric oxygen chambers in the hospital setting by appropriately trained medical personnel have good safety records.

Available Near You