Better Breathing with Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy - 405 Magazine

Better Breathing with Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy

An absorbing look at hyperbaric oxygen therapy using 100% medical-grade oxygen in a pressurized environment.

Treatment in an oxygen capsule. A beautiful girl in a black T-shirt and white pants is lying in a pressure chamber. The concept of modern medicine

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) is essentially breathing pure, 100% medical-grade oxygen in a pressurized environment — in this case, a cylinder called a hyperbaric chamber. The all-natural, noninvasive treatment can increase the oxygen concentration in the body by up to 1,200%.

Why is that helpful? Cells need oxygen to heal and regenerate healthy tissue. The air we normally breathe contains about 21% oxygen. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy allows your body to absorb more oxygen, which is absorbed into the plasma. The blood vessels then deliver these “supercharged” cells throughout the body to encourage the growth of healthy new tissue where it’s needed. This helps wounds to heal, reduces pain and swelling and fights infections, among other uses.

HBOT was originally used to treat decompression sickness in deep-sea divers. But now, it’s commonly used to treat a slew of issues. It’s been shown to enhance healing in situations such as skin grafts, heat burns and crush injuries. It can also reduce injury swelling, allowing oxygen-rich plasma to penetrate the injury site and speed up the healing process.

It’s also used to treat patients with chronic pain, particularly musculoskeletal pain. A 2018 study published by the Canadian Agency for Drugs and Technologies in Health reported increased pain thresholds, physical functionality and health-related quality of life after two months of hyperbaric oxygen therapy. The study also found that the treatment decreased tender points and psychological distress in female patients with fibromyalgia at three months post-treatment. 

Other treatments include serious infections and wounds that won’t heal due to diabetes or radiation injury. It reduces gas-bubble obstructions in blood vessels — sometimes seen in miners and deep-sea divers — that can be fatal if left untreated. HBOT also reduces the effects of harmful bacteria by boosting white blood cells that detect infection and disable deadly toxins.

The Treatment Experience

Entering the oxygen chamber can be intimidating. Its likeness to an MRI machine can cause some apprehension at first, but the process is simple, and many people ultimately find it relaxing. Unlike MRI scans, you can move as much or as little as you want. The chambers are often transparent, allowing you to communicate with the technician conducting the therapy if you need to. The process doesn’t require anything from the patient, so you’re free to pass time listening to music or watching a show.

In 2017, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs announced that HBOT will be offered as a treatment option for veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms that are resistant to standard options. Paul and Sharon Conrady run Hyperbarics for Heroes, a clinic in Oklahoma that provides hyperbaric oxygen therapy to any veteran with PTSD or traumatic brain injury issues. The clinic offers a 40-session treatment meant to alleviate pain and anxiety and provide a space for reflection. After each session, patients meet around a table to share their thoughts with one another.

“It is an honor to be part of our heroes’ journey when they emerge from a traumatic place and find hope in their future through hyperbaric therapy,” said operator Katy Townley in a written statement. “We strive to provide a safe environment where heroes can experience the physiological benefits of scuba diving without getting wet.”

Researchers are still studying the full effects of using hyperbaric therapy to treat PTSD, but recent studies are promising. The therapy is potent for treating physical damage such as carbon monoxide poisoning and diabetic foot ulcers, and testimonies of mental healing prove encouraging that hyperbaric therapy can help with many ailments.

Want to learn more about health and wellness? Check out Minding Your Mental Health,