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What Is Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy?

Written by Dr. Group, DC Founder
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy helps increase oxygen level in the blood.

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy, often shortened to HBOT, uses a special pressurized chamber, called a hyperbaric chamber, to increase oxygen levels in the blood. It’s also known as oxygen therapy, hyperbaric treatment, and hyperbaric therapy. The US Navy uses it to treat decompression sickness. HBOT has also become popular with athletes as a way to speed recovery from injury. [1] Athletes known to use HBOT include Tim Tebow, Hines Ward, tennis star Novak Djokovic, and UFC fighter Urijah Faber. [2] [3]

Disclaimer: HBOT is a relatively new therapy and we’re still learning what it can and cannot do. Don’t believe spurious claims that HBOT is some sort of miracle cure-all. As with any new technology or therapy, it’s important to take a practical and realistic point of view. [4] That said, let’s look at how it works…

How Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy Works

At the start of an HBOT sessions, the patient enters the hyperbaric chamber, which is a large glass chamber resembling something Jacques Cousteau might use to watch sharks. Once inside, a technician slowly increases the pressure as oxygen pumps into the chamber at levels 1.5 – 3 times higher than normal atmospheric air pressure. This fills the lungs with higher than normal levels of oxygen and encourages oxygen to be absorbed into the blood. Because it is a pressurized environment, it may cause minor discomfort and ear popping.

Oxygen is necessary for healing. When an injury occurs, the area around the wound becomes inflamed. This reduces the amount of oxygen available to the area for healing. When an injury is serious, the damage may be greater than the body’s capacity to heal.

HBOT helps the healing response by enriching the blood with oxygen and allowing for a steady flow of oxygen-rich blood to reach the wound.

13 Reasons to Use Oxygen Therapy

There are some outrageous claims about the benefits of HBOT. Sad to say, as great as it may be, it won’t make you Wonder Woman or Superman. However, the FDA has listed 13 conditions that may benefit from the use of hyperbaric chambers. [5] [6]

  1. Air or gas embolism
  2. Bone infection
  3. Brain or sinus infections
  4. Burns
  5. Carbon monoxide poisoning
  6. Decompression sickness
  7. Gas gangrene
  8. Necrotizing soft tissue infection
  9. Radiation injury
  10. Skin graft
  11. Wounds
  12. Thermal burns
  13. Brain abscesses

Oxygen in the Body

How important is oxygen? Well, there’s an old saying, “You can go three weeks without food, three days without water, but only three minutes without oxygen.”

The human body requires oxygen to make the energy that powers the brain and muscles. It turns genes on and off. It encourages waste removal. Oxygen stimulates blood vessel growth to heal wounds. If your cells become deprived of oxygen they shut down and begin to die. [7] The bottom line – your body won’t function without oxygen.

Air consists of more than oxygen. [8] Some gases, like nitrogen, make up a large portion of the atmosphere and cause humans no harm. Other gases, like carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide, can interfere with oxygen absorption.

Although it’s important you make sure to get enough oxygen, HBOT isn't the only way to achieve this. High-intensity workouts and deep breathing exercises are an excellent way to increase your blood oxygen levels. For guided instruction, consider yoga or T’ai Chi classes that feature deep breathing as part of their exercise.

References (8)
  1. Barata P, Cervaens M, Resende R, Camacho Ó, Marques F. Hyperbaric Oxygen Effects on Sports Injuries. Therapeutic Advances in Musculoskeletal Disease. 2011;3(2):111-121. doi:10.1177/1759720X11399172.
  2. Cavaiola, Matthew, M.D. Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT) Boosts Athletic Performance! Phoenix AntiAging Clinic. Phoenix AntiAging Clinic, 22 Feb. 2013. Web. 19 Feb. 2016.
  3. Ask the Doc: What Is HBO Therapy, and Can It Help MMA Fighters Heal Faster? MMAjunkie. USA Today Sports, 08 Oct. 2009. Web. 19 Feb. 2016.
  4. Dauwe PB, Pulikkottil BJ, Lavery L, Stuzin JM, Rohrich RJ. Does hyperbaric oxygen therapy work in facilitating acute wound healing: a systematic review. Plast Reconstr Surg. 2014 Feb;133(2):208e-15e. doi: 10.1097/01.prs.0000436849.79161.a4.
  5. United States of America. Department of Health and Human Services. Food and Drug Administration. 510(k) NOTIFICATION SUMMARY (Per 21 CFR 807.92). 20 May 2002. Print.
  6. Hadjiliadis, Denis, MD. Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia. U.S National Library of Medicine. U.S. National Library of Medicine, 30 Aug. 2014. Web. 19 Feb. 2016.
  7. Stamati K, Mudera V, Cheema U. Evolution of oxygen utilization in multicellular organisms and implications for cell signalling in tissue engineering. Journal of Tissue Engineering. 2011;2(1):2041731411432365. doi:10.1177/2041731411432365.
  8. Seidel, Dian. NOAA - Air Resources Laboratory - FAQ - How Much Oxygen and Carbon Dioxide Is There in the Air We Breath? NOAA, 23 Sept. 2008. Web. 19 Feb. 2016.

†Results may vary. Information and statements made are for education purposes and are not intended to replace the advice of your doctor. If you have a severe medical condition or health concern, see your physician.


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