A new patient came in a few weeks ago, when the hyperbaric place they had been using closed down for the pandemic. Every office is slightly different in the way that they treat patients and so it is not uncommon to have questions about protocol. We have patients wear a mask that is attached to an oxygen concentrator while they are in the chamber. Some offices don’t use the masks and have different ways of working. The patient had trouble understanding the protocols and I thought this would be a great topic for this month’s blog: how does hyperbaric oxygen work?
As we sit here, the oxygen concentration in the air is about 21%, so every time we take a breath we get 21% oxygen. If we get into a hyperbaric chamber and there is no extra oxygen, just the pressure alone increases our oxygen to about 30%. Not to get too technical, but Boyle’s law says that gas dissolves in liquid better under pressure. However, if we add oxygen, either via breathing it through a mask or by adding it to the air in the chamber, we bring our oxygen levels up to 15X as much!
So, what does that mean? For the hour that you are in the chamber with extra oxygen, we are super-saturating your blood with oxygen. That means you have more oxygen to heal your injury. And once you leave the chamber and start breathing normal air again, the blood levels go back to normal in a few hours. So, the beneficial effect comes from the intense increase and your body’s reaction to it. Similar to weight training where you break down muscle so that it heals stronger and bigger, super-saturating your blood with oxygen stimulates the healing process so that you heal so much quicker.
Many people have concerns about oxygen toxicity, this is when too much oxygen causes injury. Oxygen toxicity is pretty rare in the mild hyperbaric chambers like we have. We’ve only seen that in the larger chambers with higher oxygen levels and higher pressures
So…hyperbaric oxygen therapy works to heal injuries of all kinds by increasing the blood levels of oxygen and reducing inflammation. If you’ve had surgery, an injury, a stroke, concussion, heart attack or other type of injury, please consider hyperbaric oxygen as one of your tools to get better faster.