Oxygen is what brings you life. Every cell in your body requires oxygen to survive. Any deficiencies can contribute to severe problems.
Sometimes, your body and lungs need extra help getting enough air. Too much oxygen can present its own problems, but when used properly and in a controlled environment, oxygen may potentially support your natural healing properties for various ailments, even possibly cancer. Hyperbaric oxygen is one such form of therapy that could help your body. Learn more about hyperbaric oxygen therapy or HBOT therapy and its benefits in the Immunity Therapy Center’s guide below.
What Is Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy?
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy, often shortened to HBOT, is an established form of treatment that is most often used for decompression sickness, commonly known as the bends, a condition that affects scuba divers. This essentially involves dissolved gases, primarily nitrogen, forming bubbles in your blood and tissues. Hyperbaric oxygen treatment is also commonly used for carbon monoxide poisoning, but it’s approved for dozens of other conditions, including:
- Cyanide poisoning
- Bone infection
- Chronic infections
- Certain diabetic wounds that may not be healing properly with other treatments
- Sudden inadequate blood flow in the arteries
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy involves breathing in pure oxygen while locked in a pressurized chamber. In this chamber, air pressure is increased about two to three times more than normal. This hyper pressurized environment allows more oxygen to enter your lungs than breathing pure oxygen in your regular state. Additionally, the hyperbaric chamber treatment cost can range from $100 to $1000, depending on where you choose to get treated.
The Process of Administering Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy
The actual process of receiving hyperbaric oxygen therapy is fairly easy on your end. Most people who receive this treatment relax, sit, or lie down comfortably. There are two different types of chambers:
- Monoplace units accommodate a single individual. In these chambers, you lie down on a table that slides into a clear chamber. Talk to your doctor if you are claustrophobic to determine other options for treatment.
- Some hospitals or treatment centers have hyperbaric oxygen chambers that can accommodate two or more people at once. These are full rooms where you can sit or lie down. While the HBOT treatment is essentially the same, multiple chambers involve you breathing pure oxygen through a mask or hood worn over your face.
Most sessions for hyperbaric oxygen therapy last up to two hours at a time. All that you have to do is take deep breaths, allowing your blood to carry oxygen to all the cells of your body. Depending on your health and your doctor’s orders, you may require multiple sessions.
As the oxygen chamber is so pressurized, you may feel your ears get plugged, similar to ascending on an airplane or hiking in the mountains. Swallowing, yawning, or chewing gum is typically enough to pop your ears and relieve that sense of pressure.
Because you are breathing in pure oxygen, you may feel slightly lightheaded after completing a session. The hyperbaric chamber side effects, in general, should be minor and mostly include headaches and fatigue.
Risks and Precautions for Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy may not be suitable for everyone. It is not recommended for people who have had recent ear trauma, including ear surgery. Complications from hyperbaric oxygen therapy are not typical, but the most common complication that arises is middle ear trauma. The changes in air pressure can cause the eardrum to rupture or fluid in the middle ear to leak.
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is not recommended for people with certain lung diseases. The sudden change in air pressure may cause the lungs to collapse. Other potential risks of hyperbaric oxygen therapy include:
- Excess oxygen in the central nervous system, resulting in seizures
- Reduced blood sugar in people with diabetes who use insulin
- Temporary myopia caused by changes to your eye lens
Pure oxygen is also highly flammable, so even the smallest spark or flame can be dangerous. This is why lighters and any battery-powered devices are not allowed in the hyperbaric chamber. You are also required to remove any cosmetic products that contain petroleum, another potential fire hazard.
Benefits of Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy has been studied for its benefits, and it shows promise for a variety of different ailments.
Physical wounds cause damage to the body’s blood vessels. Among other effects, damage to the blood vessel also results in swelling, which deprives cells of necessary oxygen. This oxygen deprivation causes surrounding tissue to die.
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy floods tissues with oxygen and reduces swelling associated with physical wounds. More oxygen essentially means more nutrients to nourish damaged tissue. This may help to reduce swelling, tissue death, and oxygen-starved cells. The treatment also stimulates the release of growth factors and stem cells, both of which may contribute to the healing of injuries.
Fights Bacteria and Infection
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy may help to inhibit harmful bacteria while supporting your natural immune system functions. An increased oxygen concentration in cells and tissues essentially strengthens them in resisting infections.
Hyperbaric oxygen treatment may also support the function of white blood cells, which are the main line of defense in your immune system. White blood cells are responsible for identifying and destroying harmful microbes.
Preventing Reperfusion Injury
After the body’s tissues have been deprived of oxygen, blood eventually tries to return to that damaged tissue, but that results in even more severe tissue damage. This is most common in crush injuries as damaged cells release a substance called oxygen radicals.
These are molecules that can do irreversible damage to the body’s tissues, causing blood vessels to essentially close off and prevent proper blood flow. Hyperbaric therapy may work to eliminate oxygen radicals, allowing for normal healing to take place.
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy encourages the growth of new skin cells and new collagen cells. Collagen is the main protein that makes up connective tissues throughout the body, from your skin to your bones and muscles. By potentially supporting the growth of new blood vessels, hyperbaric oxygen therapy can supply all your tissues with necessary oxygen and nutrients.
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy may also stimulate the production of vascular endothelial growth factors. Endothelial cells make up the lining of your heart and blood vessels.
A known component of solid tumors is hypoxia, characterized by a lack of oxygen sent to tissues. Studies suggest that that hypoxia may potentially contribute to tumor growth, cell survival, and metastasis.
The initial worry with hyperbaric oxygen therapy was that it might help cancer cells as more oxygen is generally good for all cells, so the fear was that feeding cancer cells with more oxygen would promote their growth.
However, systematic reviews on hyperbaric oxygen therapy show evidence that suggests it may have an inhibitory effect on tumors to prevent their growth and potentially induce cancer cell death. This may apply to certain subtypes, like prostate cancer, though more research is necessary to determine exact applications.
What is known is that hyperbaric oxygen therapy is considered safe among patients with malignancies. As the medical treatment is noninvasive, hyperbaric oxygen therapy does not require long healing periods like other types of treatment, and the side effects of the therapy are relatively minor.
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy offers a variety of benefits. Consult your doctor to determine if it may be an effective medical treatment option for your needs.
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- Bennett MH, Mitchell SJ. Emerging indications for hyperbaric oxygen. Curr Opin Anaesthesiol. 2019;32(6):792-798. doi:10.1097/ACO.0000000000000773
- Moen I, Stuhr LE. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy and cancer–a review. Target Oncol. 2012;7(4):233-242. doi:10.1007/s11523-012-0233-x
At Immunity Therapy Center, our goal is to provide objective, updated, and research-based information on all health-related topics. This article is based on scientific research and/or other scientific articles. All information has been fact-checked and reviewed by Dr. Carlos Bautista, a Board Certified Medical Doctor at Immunity Therapy Center. All information published on the site must undergo an extensive review process to ensure accuracy. This article contains trusted sources with all references hyperlinked for the reader's visibility.