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What is Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy and How Can it Benefit My Health

By Denise Nonelle, APRN FNP-BC

hyperbaric chamber rezilir

We know that HBOT (Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy) treatment can change your gene expression, especially in the case of inflammation. There are approximately 8101 genes that are either turned on (expressed) or turned off (suppressed). Hyperbarics can flip the switch on the inflammation genes that are doing the wrong thing; thus, turning on those genes that are off and turning off those that are on. The result is a decrease or reduction of the inflammation causing the medical problem. HBOT can also improve healing, neurologic, and cognitive function in general. Another physiologic benefit of hyperbarics is that it helps the body into a parasympathetic state, which we commonly refer to as a state of “rest and digest”. This is a natural place of healing for the human body. (1,2,4)

Some other benefits of hyperbaric treatment may be the lowering of blood sugars and insulin, decrease in blood pressure, enhancement of blood flow post stroke, may improve the symptoms of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and other neurological diseases resulting in neurogenesis (the creation of new brain cells), bone formation (osteogenesis – which is helpful after a bone break), blood vessel formation (angiogenesis), help with pain/inflammation of arthritis, increases mitochondria (the power house of the cell) just to name a few. Studies in traumatic brain injury have shown that the brain can recover with HBOT even many years after the initial injury. The body’s tissues need oxygen to function properly. Increasing oxygen levels helps damaged tissue heal. Oxygen at high pressure can further improve tissue function and help the body fight infection under certain conditions. (1,4)

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved HBOT for the treatment certain conditions. The treatments can be performed in either a hospital or private center location. These treatments are covered by many insurance companies. Those conditions include:  Severe anemia, brain abscess, bubbles of air in blood vessels (arterial gas embolism), burns, decompression sickness, carbon monoxide poisoning, rushing injury, sudden deafness or vision loss, gangrene, infection of skin or bone that causes tissue death, non-healing wounds (such as a diabetic foot ulcer), radiation injury, skin graft or skin flap at risk of tissue death  Other hyperbaric treatments with researched and reported benefits are considered “off-label” and these treatments are done in private centers in either a soft or hard hyperbaric chamber. These treatments are usually not covered by insurance (1)

What Exactly is Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy?

Hyperbaric Oxygen therapy (HBOT) is a medical treatment that uses higher atmospheric pressures and additional oxygen in an enclosed chamber. Both oxygen and pressure are important together for treatment. When there is more oxygen present, the body functions more efficiently at the cellular level. As a result, the body has more energy to perform important tasks such as self-healing. The concept of HBOT Therapy is based on simple physics; high pressure allows gas to dissolve more readily into fluids. These theories are based on Boyle’s Law of Physics (gas volume is inversely proportional to the pressure) and Henry’s Law (the amount of gas dissolved in a liquid is directly proportional to the pressure of the gas in contact with the liquid). Think about a bottle of carbonated water. When the bottle is closed, bubbles are not present, but when the pressure is released, something that can clearly be heard upon opening, bubbles are evident. Those air bubbles were dissolve in the liquid due to the presence of high pressure and were visible only when the pressure was released. Hyperbaric treatment works the same way. Breathing oxygen while under pressure allows for more of the oxygen to dissolve directly into the bloodstream. That higher level of oxygen is then transferred from the blood, past any restrictions in small blood vessels, and into the tissue. When the tissue has enough oxygen, new blood vessels form, thus bringing even more blood to the area whether it be in the brain, muscle, ligaments, or joints. (1,3)

Hyperbaric Treatment at Rezilir Health

We currently offer mild pressure hyperbaric chambers and refer patients to an external certified facility if higher pressure HBOT is required.  The mild pressure chamber achieves 1.3 atmospheres which is equivalent to diving in water that is about 9 feet deep. Sessions may be anywhere from 30 to 90-minutes, depending on treatment. It can take10 minutes to fully pressurize (assuming you are able to adjust for the increased pressure) and 5-10 minutes to depressurize the chamber. The temperature in the chamber can rise by 10 degrees so you may feel warm, but in contrast, you may also be cold in the chamber. We can provide you with a fan or a blanket for your comfort.

Hyperbaric Chamber at Rezilir Health

You will be assessed by the nurse practitioner or another clinician to make sure it is safe for you to enter the chamber.  If you have had a recent upper respiratory infection, ear infection, surgery to your ear/ ear drum, trauma to your chest (such as a car accident or surgery), collapsed lung, clot to your lung or anywhere else in your body, or tubes recently placed in your ears, you may not be allowed into the chamber. This will be determined at time of the assessment. If you have severe claustrophobia, you may not be able to be zipped into the chamber for a dive. The walls of the chamber are not clear and this may bother some people. When the chamber is a full inflation, it has a lot of internal space and even with mild claustrophobia, many patients have been able to tolerate the treatment. Computer, tablet, or smart phone are allowed in the chamber to help you pass the time, or they can be used to work on brain games.

You may be concerned about getting into the chamber due to Covid-19. After each treatment, the chambers are thoroughly cleaned with hydrogen peroxide and we are now using an Ultraviolet light over every surface of the chamber. This is the same technology that hospitals use to disinfect their rooms after a patient has vacated. Your safety and health are considered a priority here at Rezilir Health.

Brief History of Hyperbarics

How did this idea of HBOT start? It is not a new concept and has been around since 1662 when British clergyman and physician Nathaniel Henshaw created a system using unidirectional valves and a set of organ bellows which directed “compressed” air into a sealed chamber. He believed the pressure created would cure digestive and chronic lung issues. (Note: in modern day high mountain rescues, a similar concept is used in a unit that looks like a sleeping bag, filled with a bellows foot pump_ Later, in 1834 French physician Junod built a chamber along with James Wyatt, a steam engine engineer. They were able to create pressure in the chamber that equaled 4 atmospheres and called it Le Bain d’air com-prime’ (the compressed air bath). This chamber had creature comforts including a table, chairs, carpeting to cover the pipes, food, drinks, and books for entertainment. This chamber was made from cast iron. (3)

Through the 1800s there were several designs used by different groups of inventors and doctors alike. In the United States, Dr. Orval J Cunningham used a chamber for the victims of the 1918 Spanish Flu Pandemic. Many patients who had pneumonia survived due to the treatment in the chamber, which during that pandemic was a death sentence. He believed the chamber would also treat hypertension, diabetes mellitus, syphilis, and cancer (thinking that all of these disease processes were caused by anaerobic infections, which are infections caused by bacteria that do not survive well or at all in oxygen rich environments). In 1928 he had created the largest hyperbaric chamber in the world, built at a cost of one million dollars (that is about $15 million dollars today!) and it was called the “Steel Ball Hospital”. This building was more like a hotel then a “sanitorium.” It was 64 feet across and had a total of 60 rooms. Unfortunately, when the American Medical Association (AMA) requested that Dr. Cunningham validate his claims on the effectiveness of the treatment and outcomes, he refused. The AMA labeled him a “quack”, but he continued to treat patients. In 1937 the “hotel” was dismantled and sold for scrap metal to fulfill the needs of World War II. (3)                           

During the height of chamber research, most advancements were made as a result of the need for better treatment for divers who would get sick from being under water either at a depth too deep or for too many hours during the mid-1800s to the 1960s. Industries such as the military (especially the Navy), construction, bridge building, and mining used divers on a daily basis. Many divers would suffer from what we know today as Decompression Sickness (also known as the bends). Dissolved nitrogen gas bubbles can cause extreme pain in human joints, severe pain while breathing, terrible chest pains, problems with the skin, and severe cognitive issues. In using hyperbaric chambers researchers discovered that that nitrogen would be released from the blood (just like that bottle of carbonated water mentioned earlier) and a person could be slowly brought back to 1.0 ATA, the atmospheric pressure on the earth’s surface. Research is critical today in areas of traumatic brain injury (due to accident or war), cognitive decline, drownings and near drownings, sports injuries, cardiology, Autism, pulmonology, and lately even in recovery from Covid-19. (3)

What Pressure should you use?

Every human by nature and genetics is different, and each treatment is based on protocols specific to that individual. HBOT is not unlike any other medication and needs to be properly prescribed for the appropriate amount of oxygen, length of time, and atmospheric pressure. So higher pressure or oxygen is not always better, dosing is extremely important. Given that hyperbarics may stimulate brain growth, it is critical to get the right dose-response for the treatment. An initial response to hyperbaric should be seen within the first 40 sessions of treatment. Some may see a difference in the first 20 treatments, others not until 40 or above.  (1)

If you have any questions about hyperbaric oxygen treatment or would like to book a session, please contact Rezilir Health at 786-780-1188.

  1. Harch, P. G., McCollough, V. (2016) The oxygen revolution, Third Edition: Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy: Breakthrough Gene Therapy for Traumatic Brain Injury and Other Disorders. Hatherleigh Press.
  2. Harch, P., (2013) Hyperbaric oxygen for post-concussion syndrome: Contradictory conclusions from a study mischaracterized as sham-controlled. letter to the editor, Journal of Neurotrama 30(23): 1995–1999.doi: 10.1089/neu.2012.2799
  3. Krishnamurti, C., (April 18th 2019). Historical aspects of hyperbaric physiology and medicine, IntechOpen, DOI: 10.5772/intechopen.85216. Available from: https://www.intechopen.com/online-first/historical-aspects-of-hyperbaric-physiology-and-medicine
  4. Mukherjee, A., Raison, M., & Sahni, T, Arya, A., Lambert, J., Marois, P., James, P. B., Parent, A., Ballaz, L.  (2014). Intensive rehabilitation combined with HBO2 therapy in children with cerebral palsy: a controlled longitudinal study. Undersea & Hyperbaric Medicine: Journal of the Undersea and Hyperbaric Medical Society, Inc, 41(2), 77-85.

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