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hyperbaric oxygen therapy explained

What is hyperbaric oxygen therapy?

The word “hyperbaric” is from the Greek root “hyper” meaning “over, above” and “baro” meaning “weight.”  Therefore, hyperbaric is “above the (normal) weight” of the atmosphere.

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBO) is the administration of pure medical oxygen (100%) at pressures greater than atmospheric pressure, i.e. more than 1 atmosphere absolute (ATA), for therapeutic reasons.

At 2.0 ATA, the blood oxygen content is increased 2.5% and sufficient oxygen becomes dissolved in plasma to meet tissue needs in the absence of haemoglobin-bound oxygen, which occurs during injury, increasing tissue oxygen tensions 10-fold (1000%).

Plasma is the watery fluid that constitutes over half of the volume of our blood.  Dissolved in it are nutrients and vitamins, electrolytes, hormones, clotting factors, proteins, fats, sugars, metabolic wastes and other substances. The other blood cells (red, white and platelets) float in the plasma as it is circulated through the body. Unlike the red blood cells, the plasma seeps from the blood vessels into spaces between cells, carrying nutrients with it, and picks up waste by-products for later disposal. Plasma is the clear fluid that seeps out when someone has a minor skin scrape or brush burn.

HBO is administered by placing the patient in a mono-place (one man) chamber and typically the vessels are pressurised to 1.3–2.0 ATA for periods between 60 and 120 minutes once or twice a day depending on type of injury. Most hospitals have multiplace hyperbaric units that can deliver ATA above 2ATA.

How more oxygen benefits the body

Most living organisms depend on oxygen for survival. Oxygen is the catalyst for a functioning cell to do its work. Different cells in the body have different functions. When sufficient oxygen and nutrients are available, life is sustained at the basic level. Haemoglobin—the red blood cells in the bloodstream—normally carries all the oxygen a healthy body needs for survival. Also many cell and tissue functions are dependent on oxygen. Of special interest are leukocytes’ ability to kill bacteria, cell replication, collagen formation, and mechanisms of homeostasis, such as active membrane transport, e.g. the sodium–potassium pump. HBO has the effect of inhibiting leukocyte adhesion to the endothelium, diminishing tissue damage, which enhances leukocyte motility and improves microcirculation . 

This occurs when the presence of gaseous bubbles in the venous vessels blocks the flow and induces hypoxia which causes endothelial stress followed by the release of nitric oxide(NO) which reacts with superoxide anions to form peroxynitrite. This, in turn, provokes oxidative perivascular stress and leads to the activation of leukocytes and their adhesion to the endothelium When normal circulation is compromised or obstructed, normal cellular function is affected and some cells may die. If normal circulation is not restored quickly, long-term injury may result. Other times, the body is compromised by infectious organisms and the immune system simply needs a boost, or a toxic substance, like carbon monoxide, has affected normal respiration. Hyperbaric oxygenation is proving a useful adjunct to traditional medical modalities for a wide range of conditions and diagnoses. While it is not possible to cite every physical benefit of hyperbaric oxygenation, outlined below are some of the physiological effects when breathing pure oxygen under hyperbaric conditions.

What happens when you are in a Tier 2 Hyperbaric Oxygen Chamber ?

This oxygen-saturated plasma moves from the circulatory system into tissue spaces, seeping into areas where there is no blood flow, or where blood flow is diminished or compromised and carries oxygen molecules with it. More oxygen is delivered to more cells than can be delivered by the circulatory system.

There is less energy transfer involved when a cell receives an oxygen

Other body fluids, such as the cerebrospinal fluid, are also infused with molecular oxygen.

The total effect is that the body has become hyperoxygenated and thus, the process is known as hyperbaric oxygenation.

Saturates body fluids with oxygen, up to ten times normal.

Increases available oxygen supply to cells, which allows them to function beyond a “maintenance” status, or to be “jump-started” and into a functioning state. Hyperoxygenated cells perform at an optimal level with less energy expended

Allows oxygen to cross the blood brain barrier effortlessly, providing a source of readily available molecular oxygen for immediate use by the brain tissue. Allows cells to metabolise vital glucose, which is necessary for the production of neurotransmitters essential in brain function, without expending extra energy which would use vital nutrients. (Glucose is metabolised throughout the body for energy on a daily basis)

Increases the availability of neurotransmitters

Increases the amount of stem cells circulating in the body

Stimulates the growth of new capillaries (tiny blood vessels) which allows circulation to be restored or improved, and this reduces or eliminates hypoxia in affected areas. An increased network of blood vessels promotes deeper circulation of oxygen and nutrients under normal conditions. Normal circulation allows certain medicines and antibiotics to penetrate farther into muscles and tissues which also helps to combat microorganism growth

Stimulates connective tissue cells, which are rich in collagen,and promotes the growth of new skin.

Stimulates molecular and enzymatic changes, and increases the ability of white blood cells to remove foreign bodies from the bloodstream including bacteria, fungi, dead cells and waste by-products

Stimulates the process involved in the normal remodeling of normal bone.

Has potent anti-inflammatory effects

Increases the production of glutathione by 15 percent

Reduces swelling and mitigates damage to the surrounding cells, tissues and blood vessels (the cascade effect), which is particularly important to brain injuries. Reducing swelling(edema) in the brain lowers intracranial pressure. Is also a useful adjunct in treating trauma to the body, and certain sports injuries.

Inhibits the growth of some bacteria and kills anaerobic organisms (non-oxygen tolerant) such as those found in gas gangrene and certain Lyme spirochetes. Improves performance of some antibiotics and medications. Anaerobic bacteria do not contain the natural defences to protect them from the superoxides, peroxides and other compounds formed in the presence of high oxygen tensions. More importantly, many of the body’s bacterial defence mechanisms are oxygen dependent. When tissue partial pressure of oxygen drops too low, effective ingestion and killing by phagocytic leukocytes is retarded. Re-oxygenation of those tissues allows phagocytosis and other host defence mechanisms to come back into play.

Reduces or eliminates the clotting effect that results from the return of blood flow to constricted areas (reperfusion injury) and helps deaggregate platelets.

Mitigates the damaging effects of carbon monoxide on the body and brain

Removes from the bloodstream the gas bubbles that cause “the bends”

The elevated pressures used during HBO further accelerate the elimination process. This is why many client-patients incorporate chelation along with HBO.

Hyperbaric oxygen acts as an alpha-adrenergic drug.

Vasoconstriction can result in reduction of edema following burns or crush injuries. Even with a reduction in blood flow, enough extra oxygen is carried by the blood so a net increase in tissue oxygen delivery occurs with HBO.

Hyperbaric oxygen physically dissolves extra oxygen into the plasma (Henry’s Law). The quantity of oxygen carried and transferred to ischemic tissue by the blood is increased. Relieving the ischemia with this increased oxygenation promotes osteoclastic and osteoblastic activity, collagen matrix formation and the breakdown of many toxins. The extra oxygen also helps the ischemic tissue meet the increased metabolic need required by the healing processes.

40 session of HBO at 2 ATA have shown to increase the circulating endothelial stem cells by 8 fold ( Endothelial stem cells are responsible for angiogenesis or formulation of new blood vessels. This is very effective in wound healing and tissue repair).