It is a field that has many uses from emergency treatment of carbon monoxide poisoning
and decompression sickness ("the bends") to the treatment of chronic, non-healing wounds
. The principle behind hyperbaric oxygen therapy (hbot) is the delivery of oxygen to the body. You should think of oxygen as any other "drug" that you might take. The air we breathe has roughly 20% oxygen. If you were to breathe 100% "pure" oxygen, that would be 5 times the "dose" of oxygen that you are breathing now. If you were to place yourself in a hyperbaric chamber, breathe 100% oxygen, and then double the pressure in that chamber, it is as if you are getting 200% oxygen. You should think of oxygen as the medicine, and the hyperbaric chamber as the "pill" or "shot" or other means of getting it into your body.
Now, why would you need hbot? In the wound care
world, there are many uses that are accepted for the use of hyperbaric oxygen. It is commonly used in patients who have had radiation treatments for cancer. The radiation causes the blood vessels that are in the irradiated field to become atrophied and causes the skin and tissue to become harder and less supple. This may lead to problems with healing in the tissues, and result in open wounds (surgery in an irradiated field), dental decay (teeth that are irradiated for head and neck cancer), bleeding from the bladder or recturm (for prostate or cervical cancer). Hbot can stimulate new blood vessels to grow in these areas, resulting in healthier tissues and a return to normal function.
Hbot can also be used in diabetics who have non-healing wounds of the feet and lower extremity. The use of hbot in a comprehensive wound care plan can decrease the number of amputations and increase the percentage of wounds that can heal. Hbot has been used for patients with surgical wounds that are failing to heal, as well as chronic bone infections (osteomyelitis
There are some people who advocate the use of hbot for "off-label" indications such as lyme disease
, multiple sclerosis, or cerebral palsy
. The data on these indications is not as strong, and these are not currently accepted uses of hbot by the fda
To get a more in-depth description than is covered here, you can go to the undersea and hyperbaric medicine society's website (http://membership.Uhms.Org/?Page=indications) for more information.