Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy, or HBOT, is a treatment that involves breathing pure oxygen in a pressurized environment (a hyperbaric chamber). The body’s tissues need a suitable supply of oxygen to function properly, even more so when the tissue is damaged. The goal of this treatment is to fill the bloodstream with enough oxygen to help restore normal body function, repair damaged tissue and fight infections. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy can be a transformative treatment option for patients who are suffering from non-healing wounds, injuries, or infections.
Mather Hospital had the first hyperbaric unit on Long Island, almost 40 years ago. “We have completed over 43,000 treatments. The unit is the only one in Suffolk County that is available on an emergency basis 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It is staffed by uniquely trained physicians and nurses,” says Mather HBOT Director Joseph White, MD, FUHMS, FAAFP.
HBO treatment is noninvasive and painless. As you lay on a comfortable bed in the chamber, you can fall asleep, listen to music or watch TV. A nurse stays right by your side throughout the treatment.
What conditions are treated?
While HBOT is known for treating scuba/deep-sea divers with decompression sickness, HBOT is also used to treat a variety of conditions such as:
- Wounds (non-healing, diabetic foot ulcers)
- Carbon monoxide poisoning
- Radiation injury from cancer treatment
- Acute sensorineural hearing loss
- Skin graft flap/reattachment at risk for failure
- Acute loss of vision from a retinal artery blockage from a clot
- Scuba diving injuries
“We have been highly successful when treating appropriate diabetic and radiation wounds, skin graft and reattachment support as well as for SCUBA injuries and deadly carbon monoxide poisoning. Two of the newer indications, acute one-sided hearing loss (sensorineural), and retinal artery occlusion have been shown to improve conditions as well,” Dr. White explains.
What is the experience like?
After consulting with your doctor to make sure HBOT is the right choice for you, the HBOT staff will provide a treatment plan to meet the needs of your condition. Everyone will have a unique treatment plan, but a typical session is 120 minutes and usually occurs once a day, five times a week for approximately 20-30 sessions.
The day of your treatment, you will be asked to remove any items that might be affected by pressure changes (jewelry, hearing aids, etc.) You will then change into a hospital gown.
Before you start your treatment, the staff will check your vital signs. Once you are comfortably positioned in the hyperbaric chamber, it will be gradually pressurized with 100% oxygen. During this process you can experience your ears feeling clogged (barotrauma) or starting to pop, similar to being on an airplane. This pressure can be relieved by yawning and taking sips of water.
Once the chamber has reached the prescribed pressure, your treatment session will begin, and you will breathe normally. During your session you can relax by watching television, listening to music or sleeping. The highly trained nursing staff will monitor your well-being during your treatment and be there to answer any questions or concerns you may have.
Towards the end of your session, the pressure inside the chamber will be lowered so your body can adapt to the pressure on the outside. Once you exit the chamber, the staff will ensure that you are cleared to leave. You can resume normal activities after your treatment, but a small number of people might experience some fatigue.
Receiving hyperbaric treatment is easy and, some might say, relaxing. The number of treatments required varies with your medical problem. Sometimes it only takes a few sessions (such as carbon monoxide poisoning treatment), but in the case of wounds, it takes additional sessions before you start to notice progress in healing. The hyperbaric staff will document your wound’s improvement with measurements and photos. To ensure the best results, it’s important to complete all sessions and stay in touch with your regular medical provider and the hyperbaric team.