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What Happens at a Hyperbaric Center?

A hyperbaric chamber.
Pure oxygen can be pumped into a hyperbaric chamber for medical treatment.
Article Details
  • Written By: Dorothy Bland
  • Edited By: Melissa Wiley
  • Images By: Steve Simpson, Nmcandre
  • Last Modified Date: 20 July 2014
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At a hyperbaric center, patients are treated with oxygen while inside of a specially designed tube known as a hyperbaric chamber. Once patients arrive at the center, they are usually directed to change into hospital scrubs because only pure cotton garments can be worn inside the chamber. Ordinarily, patients are told to arrive early to the center and may receive basic hyperbaric training before the procedure is done.

The type of hyperbaric chamber used can differ based on the design of the hyperbaric center. Many of these pressurized tubes are only capable of holding one patient at a time, and patients lie back or recline while their treatment is completed. Known as monoplace chambers, these hyperbaric vessels are generally made of clear walls so the patient can see and interact with staff at the center.

At some hyperbaric centers, however, a large walk-in chamber is used. Often known as multiplace chambers, these roomy designs can hold several patients at once. They can also accommodate patients bound to wheelchairs and those on gurneys. In multiplace chambers, the oxygen is generally delivered individually to each patient through a mask, hood or breathing tube.

Hyperbaric centers are usually designed with the patient's comfort in mind. At a hyperbaric center, the patient is likely to be given a chance to listen to music, read books, or watch TV while her treatment is completed. Additionally, hyperbaric chambers designed to seat multiple patients often include comfortable seating and footrests.

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As the patient relaxes, the chamber or breathing tube is filled with pure oxygen. Normally, the air people breathe is about one-fifth oxygen, four-fifths nitrogen. and some other trace gases. By increasing this amount to 100 percent oxygen, thermal burns, diabetic wounds, and other chronic wounds may heal faster.

In a hyperbaric clinic, the chamber is pressurized at a higher than normal pressure. The elevated air pressure is also thought to help deliver more oxygen to the tissues surrounding a wound. Usually the air pressure will be increased to reflect a depth several times greater than that at sea level. The prescribing physician usually determines the exact depth needed to best treat a patient's wound.

Treatment within the hyperbaric chamber usually takes about two hours. In general, the first 15 minutes of the treatment are usually for compressing the chamber, and the last 15 minutes are typically dedicated to decompressing the chamber. The pure oxygen is usually delivered in a 90-minute period. The hyperbaric center will probably give the pure oxygen in several segments with short breaks of ordinary air included so the patient does not experience oxygen poisoning.

Patients are closely monitored during the entire time they are in hyperbaric chambers. In chambers that accommodate multiple patients at once, medical personnel may be inside the chamber while treatment commences to tend to patients. At hyperbaric centers with single chambers, a hyperbaric technologist usually monitors the patient through the transparent chamber cover. A qualified hyperbaric specialist, a doctor with specialized training in hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT), is also normally on hand at the hyperbaric center to supervise and assist in case of medical emergency. Monoplace chambers may also be equipped with buzzers or an intercom system so the patient can communicate with the monitoring staff.

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