Most of the time, when you get a cut or scrape your body rushes to fight off infection and repair the damaged tissue. But for some people, the body struggles with the healing process and chronic, non-healing wounds become a problem.
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) is a form of treatment for wounds that provides pure oxygen to a patient in a pressurized chamber and can give the body a jump-start to promote healing.
“Wounds that are chronically infected are typically stuck in an inflammatory phase,” said Priscilla Latta, MD, who provides services at Samaritan Wound, Vein & Hyperbaric Medicine in Albany. “When you infuse a huge amount of oxygen into a wound that has poor blood flow, you reduce inflammation, promote collagen formation and help new blood vessels grow.”
How it Works
According to Dr. Latta, air contains on average about 21 percent oxygen, which is plenty for healthy blood oxygen levels. During oxygen therapy, 100 percent oxygen is provided. Within the pressured chamber the oxygen molecules shrink so that the lungs are able to bring in about 10 times more oxygen into the blood stream than they do normally. This oxygen influx improves the way the blood reaches and reacts with the damaged tissue to regenerate new, healthy tissue.
“In this context, we’re using oxygen as a drug,” said Dr. Latta.
When HBOT Helps
During treatment, patients lie in a chamber and breathe in pure oxygen. Since the chamber is pressurized to an equivalent of 33 feet under sea, they may feel their ears pop as they “dive.” Patients usually need to dive for two hours, five days a week for a total of 30 to 60 treatments.
Non-healing wounds are typically characterized as wounds that haven’t healed within 30 days. Dr. Latta reports that diabetic foot ulcers and wounds from radiation often respond well to HBOT. The therapy can help tissue damage from prior radiation. Crush injuries and chronic bone infections may also benefit from supportive HBOT care.
“Our patients experience the best outcome when oxygen therapy is used early on and in combination with other traditional measures,” said Dr. Latta. “It’s not a cure-all for every wound and not everyone is a good candidate for the procedure, but for wounds that need a little extra help, it can enhance the healing process.”
Read more about wound care in our health library.