Every cell in the human body requires oxygen to function optimally. Low oxygen levels can result in shortness of breath, headaches, abnormal heart rate and overall unwellness.
Improving oxygenation of the blood is proving more and more to be a viable step towards recovery from various health issues, as well as improving our body’s regeneration and performance.
This blog will contain everything you need to know about hyperbaric oxygen, how it works and what it helps. This post is an introductory piece and will be the first of many on the subject of hyperbaric therapy and medicine.
We will go into much greater detail on the subject as new posts come along.
What is Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT) ?
Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT) is the procedure of infusing oxygen into the body by using pressurized, oxygen-rich air to stimulate oxygen absorption and maximize oxygen supply.
This therapy involves entering a special chamber pressurized at levels 1.5 to 3 times higher than average so that the patient may breathe in high levels of oxygen in a safe and controlled environment.
Oxygenating the blood in this manner stimulates angiogenesis (the formation of new blood vessels in the tissues) which speeds up the body’s healing process by up to 500%.
It also helps build and repair damaged blood vessels, triggers collagen growth, reduces swelling and pain, increases blood flow and circulation, boosts the effectiveness of antibiotics, and encourages the creation of new white blood cells to ward off infection.
The first known use of hyperbaric therapy was in the early 20th century. Today, it still sees use in a number of applications but is mostly used for treating divers with carbon monoxide poisoning and decompression sickness.
How does it work?
We experience difficulty in breathing when we ascend dramatically in altitude, such as when climbing up mountains or taking off on a plane.
Conventional wisdom tells us that there is less oxygen at higher elevations, but that’s actually NOT true.
It doesn’t matter if we are at sea level or on top of Mt. Everest, the air is composed of ~21% oxygen on average.
The breathing problems we experience are not because there’s less oxygen in the air, but rather because of the change in pressure.
As we ascend, atmospheric pressure increases, which in turn lowers oxygen absorption of our red blood cells, rendering them oxygen-deprived.
The opposite is true when we descend, the pressure increases, and our oxygen absorption increases.
At sea level, our red blood cells are usually close to 100% saturated, barring any specific heart or lung issues.
This means that under normal, healthy circumstances, our red blood cells are holding as much oxygen as they possibly can. But our plasma, which is the liquid portion of our blood, normally holds very little oxygen.
Descending below sea level will increase oxygen absorption even more, but since the red blood cells are at full capacity, all that extra oxygen gets absorbed by our plasma instead.
In high pressure, oxygen-rich environments, like inside a hyperbaric chamber, our plasma transforms into an enormous reservoir of oxygen, which our cells can then use for virtually anything our body needs.
This increase in oxygenation leads to a long list of possible cellular improvements including faster recovery from injuries.
Benefits of Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT)
Many cases of non-healing wounds have been known to benefit from hyperbaric oxygen therapy.
Oxygen-starvation in injured tissues causes swelling and tissue death, slowing down the healing process.
Oxygen-enriched plasma has proven to help reverse tissue death, reduce inflammation, and boost our tissue’s natural resistance to infection.
In reperfusion injuries (or crushing injuries), blood flow is interrupted, releasing harmful molecules into the blood. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy stimulates the body’s built-in response to this condition, encouraging rapid healing.
Hyperbaric therapy has been used in situations like burns, diabetic foot ulcers, skin or bone infection, skin graft or skin flaps, gangrene, necrotizing soft tissue infection, severe anemia, sudden loss of vision or hearing, brain injuries, brain abscess, arterial gas embolism (air or gas bubbles in the blood vessels), cyanide poisoning, as well as radiation injuries from cancer treatment.
Dispelling the Myths
With proper usage, hyperbaric therapy is a safe, effective and well-proven tool to help alleviate a large variety of injuries and conditions.
But this therapy is currently NOT considered a direct treatment for any disease. It should not be viewed as a miracle cure that can fix all illnesses.
It’s simply a tool to improve oxygenation in the blood, and that just happens to be a largely beneficial form of therapy to a host of health conditions.
Welcome to our blog – and stay tuned
A quick search for hyperbaric oxygen leads to a wealth of information. While some of the content is accurate, unfortunately, most of it is confusing, contradicting and misleading.
My extensive history and experience with hyperbaric medicine have compelled me to organize and deliver the largest and most accurate hyperbaric therapy database in the world, indexed and made easily available for public consumption.
I started this blog in order to help improve the public’s awareness of the benefits of this therapy and to further our understanding of where Hyperbaric Medicine fits within our current health requirements.
I have been using hyperbaric oxygen therapy in my clinical practice for 13 years (2008), researching and writing about the subject matter for the past 12 years (2009), lecturing to other health practitioners around the country and internationally for the past 5 years (2017), and published a book, Oxygen Under Pressure, in 2020.
I currently sit on The International Board of Undersea Medicine as well as The International Hyperbaric Association. I also teach and certify doctors, practitioners and technicians in Hyperbaric Medicine.
We will talk about the usefulness of oxygenation and hyperbaric oxygen therapy, discuss in great detail the well-established, research-proven mechanisms behind the technology, dispel some myths associated with its application as well as manage expectations of its application, and demonstrate why it is appropriate to consider hyperbaric as a means for improved health and performance for ourselves, our loved ones and our patients.
This is only the beginning of our deep dive into hyperbaric oxygen therapy. Stay tuned to this blog for more relevant material and resources about hyperbaric oxygen in the coming weeks.