Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy: How Air Helps Heal a Wound

Mar 28, 2013 -  You’ve sought treatment, tried traditional methods, and still your wound resists healing. Now you wonder, “What are my options?” What most patients don’t always know is there are special departments that specialize solely in wound treatment. At the ECHN Center for Wound Healing, you will have access to treatments your doctor may not have available to care for your acute or chronic wounds.

One such option is hyperbaric oxygen therapy. It’s been around since the 60s as an alternative solution for persistent wound treatment. Here’s how it works.

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy, or HBO, uses a special chamber, sometimes called a pressure chamber, to increase the amount of oxygen in the blood. Increased atmospheric pressure helps your blood carry more oxygen throughout the body to help limb-threatening wounds heal.

How does oxygen help my wound heal?
It may seem odd that lying in a pressurized tube for 2.5 hours can somehow heal the wound on your foot, but it can. Hyperbaric chambers heal your body from the inside out. The pressurized units of air that the chamber delivers to your blood cells increase the amount of oxygen in the blood, allowing red blood cells to pass more easily through the plasma into the wounds, to heal them from the inside out.

When is hyperbaric oxygen therapy typically used to treat wounds?
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is a large commitment of time for the patient and the team involved, so it is typically not the first step of treatment for a less severe wound. Your doctor may try other options before referring you a month of 2.5-hour HBO treatments.

However, if you have an non-healing or infected wound that has been treated for months without success, you’re at risk for that infection to spread until amputation is the most viable option to keep it from spreading to various parts of the body. If traditional wound care isn’t working, it may be time to try something different like hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBO).

HBO may also be used to treat:
  • Diabetic ulcers
  • Preservation of skin grafts
  • Vein and artery circulation problems  
  • Bone infections that have not improved with other treatments
  • Burns and gas gangrene
  • Necrotizing soft-tissue infections
  • Radiation injuries (for example, damage from radiation therapy for cancer)
What is the HBO wound treatment process?
Although HBO is a long process, it’s a painless one. And it’s a great option for wounds that are resistant to other courses of treatment. In fact, 90 percent of patients who undergo treatment with HBO heal in 16 weeks or less.

A typical treatment plan at The ECHN Center for Wound Healing at Manchester Memorial Hospital and at its satellite office in Ellington might begin with one month of 2.5-hour treatments, five days a week, followed by the team’s re-evaluation of the wound and course of treatment. Keep in mind that each wound and situation is different, so your individual care plan may vary.

During treatment, patients lie on a specialized bed within a chamber. A mask may be provided for additional oxygen. The atmospheric pressure inside the chamber is increased. A TV may be close to (but not inside) the chamber so you will be able to watch a movie or listen to music while you heal. Inside the chamber, you may feel pressure in your ears, similar to the sensation you feel on an airplane coming in for a landing, and your ears may pop when you leave the chamber.

If you think you might be a good candidate for hyperbaric oxygen therapy, and you live in eastern Connecticut, call The ECHN Center for Wound Healing at 860.533.2903 or email Denise Dowd, Program Director, at ddowd@echn.org. Our center is equipped and staffed to address all types of wounds, with most wound treatments covered by Medicare/Medicaid, HMOs and other private insurance plans. We are expert at caring for people whose open sores and wounds have resisted traditional wound treatment, with a success rate of 94 percent healed in 16 weeks.

(HBO – Medline reference:)
Christiani DC. Physical and chemical injuries of the lung. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 94.
Rabinowitz RP, Caplan ES. Hyperbaric oxygen. In: Mandell GL, Bennett JE, Dolin R, eds. Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases. 7th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Elsevier Churchill Livingstone; 2009:chap 43.

Update Date: 8/30/2012
Updated by: David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine. Denis Hadjiliadis, MD, Assistant Professor of Medicine, Division of Pulmonary, Allergy and Critical Care, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.


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