To survive, humans need oxygen. We all learned in elementary school that oxygen is essential for survival. we breathe contains 21% oxygen.
Our bodies use oxygen for energy production. Red blood cells are responsible for carrying oxygen through the blood vessels and binding it to hemoglobin. It then dissolves in plasma and flows to the tissues through the arteries, capillaries.
While we’ve known of the role of oxygen in our health for hundreds of years, it wasn’t until 1891 that Dr. J.L. Corning created a hyperbaric chamber in New York. Since then, we’ve continued to optimize the chambers for the best combination of air pressure and oxygen for therapeutic purposes.
What is Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy?
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) refers to when a person inhales 100% pure oxygen at higher atmospheric pressures. The pressurized chamber allows the body to better absorb oxygen into the lungs and tissues.
The combination of higher oxygen concentration and more pressure allows for more oxygen to reach the areas where our bodies are most in need.
Types of HBOT
There are three types hyperbaric oxygen chambers. The medical grades are found in hospitals or medical centers.
- Multiplace chambers – Multiple patients can sit inside. Some patients are equipped with masks or hoods that allow them to breathe, rather than being submerged in oxygen therapy.
- Monoplace chambers – A single individual can lay or sit for medical treatment.
- Soft-shell chambers – For personal use that you can buy for your own home. This one is easy to zip into. The pressure doesn’t go up as high, but they still offer amazing health benefits.
We refer to the pressure as atmosphere absolute. The soft-shells typically reach 1.3-1.7 ATA while the hard-shells can reach 5.0 ATA. However, humans cannot safely descend below 3.0 ATA.
The standard time inside a health care setting is 90 minutes plus 10 minutes on each end to gradually increase or decrease the pressure. It can take up to two hours of your day.
Clear acrylic chambers are most commonly used in a medical setting. The at-home devices are opaque and usually insulated using fabric. (I don’t mind the lack of visual stimulation!)
Don’t take anything into the chamber with you. You’ll need to remove all jewelry and electronics from your person (not that you should be carrying your phone in your pocket anyway!) In health care facilities, it’s pretty standard to have TVs set up for patients to watch.
We are learning more about the benefits of HBOT for the body. It:
- Increases oxygen – in all parts of the body
- Regrows blood vessels – by increasing blood flow and enhancing blood density in the body
- Inflammation and swelling decreases – by downregulating multiple inflammatory markers
- Improves lymphatic fluid flow – from the increased pressure
- Stimulates stem cells – which helps the body further regenerate
- Kills infections – by starving harmful anaerobic bacteria of the environment they need to thrive
It could be a good idea overall. optimize your cellular functioning and mitochondria.
The average course of treatment prescribed by doctors and covered by some insurance policies is 40 sessions. The FDA approves the use of hard chambers in the treatment of the following medical conditions.
- Decompression sickness – counters the excess nitrogen from resurfacing too fast while scuba diving
- Carbon monoxide poisoning
- Wound healing
- Diabetic foot ulcers, diabetic wounds
- Radiation injury
- Skin infections like gangrene
- Skin grafts
- Osteomyelitis – non-healing bone infections
- Sudden deafness or hearing loss
- Blood vessels contain gas and air bubbles
- Crush injury
- Vision loss
However, soft chambers have been approved by the FDA for altitude sickness (also known as mountain sickness).
In my podcast interview with Dr. Scott Sherr on hyperbaric medicineHe noted that the FDA only has 14 approved uses of HBOT, but other countries have approved it to be used for more than 70.
We still have much to learn about the mechanism. Doctors continue to study hyperbaric therapy for additional uses.
- Cancer – typically used in conjunction with chemotherapy and radiation, potentially rendering them more effective
- Arthritis – it may help reduce symptoms when oxidative stress and C-reactive protein levels are too high
- Ischemia – it may reduce the long-term effects of heart attack and strokes
- Reproductive issues – it may improve fertility and reverse erectile dysfunction
- Chronic illness – from chronic fatigue syndrome to Lyme disease, there are many case studies of use for these illnesses
- Traumatic brain injury
- Depression and Seasonal Asffective Disorder
- Parkinson’s Disease
- Autism Spectrum Disorder
It is claimed that it speeds up recovery from mild injuries. Some people use it to fight the signs of aging. HBOT can be offered by some veterinarians to pets.
Because of the few side effects, many alternative practitioners are willing to try HBOT for complex chronic illnesses and other health conditions that haven’t responded to standard treatments.
Hyperbaric Oxygen Side Effects & Cautions
Nevertheless, HBOT isn’t for everyone. Talk to your doctor before you start hyperbaric oxygen treatment.
Too much oxygen can cause harm. Oxygen toxicity is a term that describes excessive oxygen intake. Oxygen toxicity is when the oxygen level is too high. This can lead to an increase in reactive oxygen species.
Some conditions require extra caution:
- Recent accidents – if you’ve recently been in an accident, health care providers will need a scan to make sure you don’t have a pneumothorax (a pocket of air inside the lungs)
- Ear issues – the increased ear pressure can injure the middle ear
- Lung disease
- Seizure disorders
In animal studies, too much pressure can cause cataracts in animals and sinus problems in humans. Some people experience temporary vision changes that disappear after the treatment is over. Supplementing with anaerobic bacteria is a good idea since 98% of the bacteria in your gut microbiome is anaerobic. a good spore-based probiotic.
Some HBOT centers recommend taking antioxidants to counter oxidative stresses when taking high doses.
Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy at Your Home
It’s wonderful that we can now harness the power of oxygen in the privacy of our own homes. (And, you can save money and still keep the device.
These are the brands I recommend:
- Hbot Plus – They offer two soft-shell options, one for sitting and one for lying down. They also come with a hard-shell option.
- HyperbaricPro – They have soft-shell designs for lying down, those in wheelchairs, and multiple people at once, in addition to hard-shell models.
Hyperbaric oxygen was an experience I shared with a friend who was suffering from Lyme Disease. Like when I’ve gone underwater diving, you can feel a little pressure inside your ears and on your skin. It’s almost like you’re in an airplane where your ears pop when you open your mouth. To relieve the pressure, I chew gum while still in it.
This article was medically reviewed by Dr. Tim Jackson. He is a Doctor in Physical Therapy and Orthopedic Rehab, and a provider of Functional Medicine. He holds a B.S. Wake Forest University awarded him a Bachelor of Science in Health Science & Chemistry. This is not intended to be a substitute for your doctor’s advice.
Have you ever tried hyperbaric oxygen treatment? Do you want to try it?
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