The world around us is awe-inspiring, and never more so than when we learn how something we take for granted can heal and rejuvenate us. Oxygen is everywhere, and we rarely think about it unless holding our breath, but oxygen can give our bodies a powerful boost. At The Guyer Institute of Molecular Medicine in Indianapolis, IN, we use hyperbaric oxygen therapy to improve lives.
What Is Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy?
In the surrounding air we breathe, oxygen levels are usually constant at about 21%. The rest of the air around us is made up of nitrogen (which is essential to plant life), argon, and a number of natural trace gases like carbon dioxide, helium, and hydrogen.
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy gives you the opportunity to breathe pure, 100% oxygen under pressure. This allows your lungs to fill with more oxygen, making it easier for the oxygen to move around the body and accomplish all its important functions, like promoting healing, lowering inflammation, and stimulating the growth of new cells.
Why Is It Done?
Our Need for Oxygen
Every single cell in our bodies needs oxygen. If you’ve ever tried holding your breath for an extended period of time, you can feel how impossible it would be to hold your breath forever. After only a few moments, every cell cries out for air, and your physiology impels you to give up and take a breath.
Oxygen isn’t just generally necessary to the cells; it’s also a key factor in healing. Oxygen enables us to build up new tissues, replace old tissues, convert the food we eat into useful energy, and properly deal with waste products.
Oxygen is also especially necessary for our brains. Although our brains only make up 2% of our body weight, they use 20% of the oxygen we consume. Finally, oxygen can stimulate the immune system to help us fight off illnesses.
Why Use This Method to Get Oxygen?
Why use hyperbaric oxygen therapy in particular? Could we not get the same effect from simply going to an unpolluted area with lots of trees and breathing more deeply? There are even some websites claiming to sell oxygen-based powders and pills that can boost oxygen levels to support digestion. What’s special about hyperbaric therapy?
Oxygen enters our body through the lungs. As we take a breath, oxygen diffuses throughout the membranes of our lungs and into the red blood cells. Those red blood cells then carry the oxygen wherever it’s needed within the body. No pill can mimic this process.
While avoiding polluted areas is always a good idea (and most of us could use some more time outside), hyperbaric oxygen therapy is special. This therapy takes place in an air chamber where the air pressure is higher than normal. Because of the higher air pressure, your lungs are able to gather in more oxygen than they would even if breathing pure oxygen at regular pressure.
What Oxygen Treatments Can Help
As stated, our brains use 20% of the oxygen we breathe even though they only make up 2% of our body mass. Oxygen is incredibly important to the brain, and increasing oxygen levels can help with mental clarity, help the brain to heal itself after a concussion, and is even used to treat brain abscesses.
Because oxygen promotes cellular healing, it is often used in situations where wounds refuse to heal, such as with diabetic foot ulcers. It can also treat infections of the skin or bone that are causing tissue death and helps skin grafts to “take” more efficiently.
Oxygen therapy can also accelerate healing after surgery or injury by enhancing cellular renewal and supporting the growth of new blood vessels and tissues.
Research from the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology has determined that oxygen stops runaway inflammation and can enhance the effectiveness of anti-inflammatory drugs, making it a promising treatment for anyone suffering from a condition caused or exacerbated by inflammation.
What to Expect During Treatment
Your first step will be to discuss the entire treatment with us so that we can understand your needs and you can understand exactly what oxygen treatments can do for you. This is your opportunity to ask any questions and learn what will happen from start to finish.
Many people are concerned about the size of the treatment chamber when they first hear about this therapy. They worry that they will feel claustrophobic, such as can be the case when getting an MRI. In reality, very few people find themselves feeling claustrophobic once they are in the chamber since it is larger than your typical MRI machine. Talk with us, and we can help you make the smart choice for you.
Once you are in the chamber, your technician will start the pressurizing process. This is not painful, though some people do report experiencing a popping sensation in the ears somewhat analogous to taking off in an airplane. This can usually be relieved by swallowing, yawning, or simply opening and closing your mouth repeatedly.
Once the chamber has been fully pressurized, your ears will stop popping and you are not likely to feel anything at all. In fact, most people find it a very relaxing experience and an excellent opportunity to meditate or take a nap. During your treatment, you’ll be able to talk with staff members at any time.
Most sessions take between one and two hours, including the time necessary to pressurize and depressurize the chamber. However, the exact time for your treatment will depend on your needs and the discussion you have with your doctor and our technicians.
Once you have finished your treatment, the chamber will be slowly depressurized. Once again, it’s possible you may feel a sensation similar to taking off in an airplane, but there is no pain and no downtime required after this treatment.
How Many Treatment Should You Get?
The number of treatments that’s right for you will depend on your unique situation. It’s always smart to start by talking with your doctor and calling us to talk to a specialist about your particular health concerns and what you’re hoping to achieve through oxygen therapy.
Many people feel their best after completing two sessions a day for five days in a row each week. Anyone who needs oxygen therapy for a particularly serious condition should think about committing to at least three sessions a week for the best results. Most people do well with 30 to 40 sessions.
For most people, it’s a good idea to evaluate progress after a month to find out how oxygen therapy is working for you and whether more sessions might be helpful.
Because this therapy is useful for such a range of illnesses, many people are candidates for it. The best way to find out is to talk with your doctor and give us a call or stop by our clinic and have a private consultation where we can give you more information and understand your personal needs.
Who Is Not a Candidate
This is considered a safe procedure and there are only a few things that could keep you from benefiting. If you have cataracts, talk with us about the appropriate pressure to use for your treatment.
If you are a smoker, we strongly encourage you to stop smoking before you begin this treatment. Nicotine is simply incompatible with oxygen therapy because it actively works against everything the therapy is meant to improve. There are also a few medications that are not compatible with oxygen therapy, but during your consultation, we will take a complete drug history to make sure you’re a good candidate.
Finally, if you are currently in the midst of a cold or flu, particularly one involving congestion in your ears and nose, it may be best to postpone treatment until you are fully recovered. The pressurized treatment chamber could make congestion symptoms more uncomfortable.
1. Is This Covered by Insurance?
Oxygen therapy is usually covered by insurance for certain specific conditions and diseases. Medicare has approved coverage of this therapy for chronic, nonhealing wounds, and most private insurers follow the same rule. It’s important to communicate with your insurance provider and talk with our staff if you have any concerns.
2. Is This a New Treatment?
A form of this therapy has been around since the mid-17th century. Hyperbaric treatments were first used in the early part of the 20th century and have been a mainstay of medical treatment worldwide since the 1980s.
3. What Should I Wear?
Wearing the right clothes for your treatment will keep you comfortable and enhance your safety throughout your time in a hyperbaric chamber. Wear loose-fitting, comfortable clothing with as high a cotton content as possible.
It’s important not to wear any beauty products that are petroleum-based, any jewelry like watches or earrings, contact lenses, loose-fitting dentures, or wigs. You will not be able to take your cell phone into the chamber with you or eat while undergoing therapy. If you have a medical device with an internal battery, let our technicians know so they can make the correct adjustments.
4. How Will I Feel Afterward?
Most people are able to return to their normal activities immediately after receiving oxygen therapy. It is possible that you will feel slightly more fatigued than normal once the treatment is over, in part because your cells have been working overtime to do their job and promote healing, but this is transitory and should pass quickly.
5. Does It Feel Stuffy Inside the Chamber?
The air in the chamber will stay fresh throughout your therapy, and we keep the air warm while you’re inside. You can let us know if you need a blanket.
6. Am I Safe During the Treatment?
You will be in constant contact with your technician, so if you experience any claustrophobia or wish to end the treatment, it will be easy to do so. This is an entirely non-invasive, nonpharmaceutical treatment with no dangerous side effects to worry about.
6. Is There Anything Else I Should Know?
The best way to ensure you have a great experience with oxygen therapy is to communicate regularly with your technician at every session. If something has changed about your health, you have started taking a new medication, you’re aware that you could be pregnant, or anything else, let us know so we can provide you the best possible service.
If you’re ready to learn more about how hyperbaric oxygen therapy can promote healing at the cellular level and improve your life, talk to us at The Guyer Institute of Molecular Medicine in Indianapolis, IN. We are happy to answer your questions and start you on the path to enjoying all the benefits of hyperbaric therapy.