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What Is a Hyperbaric Oxygen Chamber?

A hyperbaric oxygen chamber.
Pure oxygen can be pumped into a hyperbaric chamber for medical treatment.
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  • Written By: Jeri Sullivan
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Images By: Steve Simpson, Nmcandre
  • Last Modified Date: 31 October 2014
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A hyperbaric oxygen chamber is a sealed vessel where the oxygen levels are higher than normal atmospheric pressure. The hyperbaric oxygen chamber is used in hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) to treat decompression sickness, air embolisms, carbon monoxide poisoning, crush injuries, necrosis, thermal burns, anemia, and diabetic wounds. Depending on the reason for treatment, a patient may be required to undergo several sessions in the hyperbaric oxygen chamber at a hyperbaric clinic or hospital.

The construction of a hyperbaric oxygen chamber looks like a metal capsule with a hatch to climb in and out of. Within the chamber is a pressure lock so the pressure can be modified as needed to meet the individual patient's needs. There is also a two-way intercom system and closed circuit television that allows the hyperbaric clinic's staff to easily communicate with the patient inside the chamber.

During treatment, the patient lies flat on her back and oxygen rich air is pumped into the hyperbaric oxygen chamber. As the pressure builds, the oxygen is absorbed into the bloodstream and travels to the body's tissues. This "super" oxygen saturation encourages new capillaries to form which helps with poisonings and anemia.

Another way treatment works is through the increased air pressure being pumped into the chamber. As the oxygen flows in, gas present in the body constricts and ultimately evaporates. This is how air embolisms and decompression sickness are treated. As the gas is reduced in response to the increased pressure, the bubbles are affected and basically deflate.

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For crush injuries and burns, a hyperbaric oxygen chamber works by causing the blood vessels to restrict. This happens in response to the increased pressure and helps reduce swelling and tissue inflammation. In burn victims, there is often significant swelling in and around the damaged tissues so constriction of the blood vessels allows the tissues to receive more oxygen and be more efficient in the healing process.

Necrosis and diabetic wounds are treated in a hyperbaric oxygen chamber to increase the blood flow around dead or dying tissues. With this therapy, oxygen saturates not only the red blood cells but also the plasma. This increases the speed and volume at which oxygen reaches the tissues and also stimulates growth of new, healthy cells. Diabetics often suffer from foot wounds due to poor circulation and in many cases, amputation is necessary. For patients taking part in hyperbaric oxygen chamber therapy, the incidence of amputation is significantly lower.

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