What is Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy and why is it Used to Treat Bed Sores?

Hyperbaric Oxygen TherapyHyperbaric oxygen therapy is one option for bed sore treatment, typically reserved for patients with severe sores. The goal of hyperbaric oxygen therapy is to increase the oxygen supply in the body to promote skin healing. It uses the same technology – a pressurized chamber – as treatments for scuba divers with oxygen depletion. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy could improve oxygen flow to the affected area of skin, stimulating cell growth and helping to fight bacterial infections.

How Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy Works

A bed sore, or pressure ulcer, forms when something cuts off the supply of blood to an area of the skin, such as prolonged pressure on the area. Bed sores arise when the skin tissues suffer damage or die because of the lack of blood over time. They are painful skin lesions that may break open and pose a risk of infection. In its late stages, a bed sore can show dead patches of skin and reach deep enough to affect the underlying muscles and ligaments.

In severe bed sore cases, a doctor may prescribe hyperbaric oxygen therapy to rapidly increase the supply of oxygen to an area of skin that has damaged, dying, or necrotic tissues. This type of therapy may work even when other treatments have not resulted in wound improvement. During hyperbaric oxygen therapy, a patient will breathe in pure oxygen in a special compression chamber or through a tube. It is the same process as a well-established treatment for deep-sea divers who require decompression.

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy has been in use for around 50 years. Physicians use it to treat patients with diabetic ulcers, to significantly reduce the odds of amputation. In patients with chronic or nonhealing wounds, hyperbaric oxygen therapy could increase the rate of skin healing and trigger restoration. Breathing in pure oxygen can activate immune cells, control inflammation, and begin the process of tissue regeneration. It could be an effective treatment for patients with stage three or four pressure ulcers.

The Effectiveness of Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy

Many bed sores become nonhealing because of a susceptibility to infection. Exposed chronic wounds are at high risk of bacterial infections that continue to damage tissues and increase free radical production. Infection can cause inflammation in the bed sore region, along with an imbalance of chemicals released into the tissues. This imbalance can ultimately inhibit the entry of important nutrients into the wound; thus, inhibiting healing. Steps to control and prevent infections are vital to the successful treatment of bed sores.

Oxygen is a main component of wound healing. Oxygen-rich conditions can trigger the healing process in the skin while controlling the inflammatory phase. One study that evaluated the effects of oxygen therapy on pressure ulcers found that after 12 days of oxygen therapy, a significantly greater number of patients had complete wound healing compared to the control group. The group that received oxygen therapy also had smaller wound areas after 12 days.

Is Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy Dangerous?

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is generally not a dangerous form of treatment for patients with severe bed sores. Some patients report feeling tired or hungry after treatment. However, rare complications do occur. Potential complications include temporary eye lens changes and nearsightedness, middle ear injuries from changes in air pressure, lung collapse, and seizures from oxygen toxicity.

Fire is also a potential risk involved with oxygen therapy. It is important for patients undergoing this therapy to remove fire hazards before treatment, as an oxygen-rich environment poses a larger risk of fires. Some treatments involve a compression room that can accommodate several patients at once, while others use units designed for one person, with a table that slides into a plastic tube. Within the chamber or tube, the air pressure in the room will be two to three times that of a normal environment.

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