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There are two main types of hyperbaric treatments, each used to treat different kinds of conditions. The most well-known of these is the hyperbaric chamber which involves a patient lying inside a capsule where the oxygen pressure is higher than that of the atmosphere. The lesser known of the two hyperbaric treatments is the topical hyperbaric variant. Topical treatments involve placing a bag-like object over a body part and using a tank of pure oxygen to pressurize the area.
Hyperbaric chambers can be hard-shelled or soft-shelled and are used to treat health issues such as decompression sickness, intracranial abscesses, and gas embolisms. In some cases, they are also used to treat mental health issues and learning disabilities such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and autism. Patients are placed in a chamber filled with pure oxygen while wearing a mask or helmet that allows them to breathe only pure oxygen. The chamber is then pressurized to at least one and a half times the pressure of the atmosphere, thereby allowing oxygen to infiltrate the body.
Treatments that utilize a chamber typically last one hour and, depending on the needs of the patient, can be consist for 20 to 40 sessions. Long term issues, such as treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), are typically addressed at a lower pressure for several sessions. For short term issues, such as decompression sickness, hyperbaric treatments are usually at a much higher pressure for only a few sessions.
Hyperbaric treatments can also aid in the healing of wounds, thermal burns, and skin grafts. For these medical issues, topical hyperbaric treatments are standard. These treatments are usually at home as long as the patient is non-critical. A bag is placed over the area of the body that requires treatment and thoroughly tapped to the body, ensuring there is no way for air to leak out. Hoses are then attached between the bag and a pure oxygen tank, and the bag is pressurized to the desired level.
Topical hyperbaric treatments usually come in four units that are administered over a week’s time. It is essential that the bag is tapped securely to the skin and pressure is maintained throughout the treatment to ensure the skin or wound heals properly. When administered correctly, this treatment can speed up healing and also improve the skin's appearance after it is healed, including reducing scarring.
Hyperbaric treatments have come a long way since they were first introduced in the 1800s. Chambers and topical hyperbaric treatments have generally become effective for treating various physical and mental issues. Researchers and doctors continue to find new ways that hyperbaric oxygen therapy can be used to treat other health issues outside of the ones for which it is currently used.