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What is Hyperbaric Wound Healing?

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  • Written By: Amanda Dean
  • Edited By: Lauren Fritsky
  • Last Modified Date: 08 November 2016
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Hyperbaric wound healing uses pressurized oxygen to treat wounds that heal slowly under standard healing practices. This method is based on several mechanisms including vasoconstiction, antibiotic support, and hyperoxygenation of the blood. Hyperbaric wound healing is used to treat an array of wounds like burns, skin grafts, and external ulcers. This treatment strategy should be part of a comprehensive wound-care regimen. This is a long-term treatment method, but still heals wounds faster than traditional healing procedures.

Patients who have circulation problems may heal slowly or fail to heal serious wounds with standard treatments. Hyperbaric wound healing is often used in patients with diabetes, as they have poor circulation and a tendency toward ulcers. This treatment may be used to help restore circulation as well as heal wounds.

A hyperbaric chamber at a medical center is used to facilitate this treatment. The chamber is typically cylindrical and has enough space for the patient to lay down comfortably inside. The chamber fills up with oxygen at a pressure level twice the standard pressure in the atmosphere. Patients spend up to two hours each day in the chamber. Most patients undergo treatments daily for one to two months.

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Some hyperbaric chambers are larger and can accommodate many patients at the same time. Instead of oxygen, these walk-in chambers fill up with normal air pressurized at two to two and a half times the normal level. Patients in these chambers may read or watch movies to make it more comfortable for the duration of treatment. This is a good choice for people who are claustrophobic, but they do not receive the full benefit of pure oxygen, and there are few of these large chambers in existence.

Although there are relatively few side effects of hyperbaric wound healing, there are some important personal safety considerations. Patients may initially feel numbness or fatigue when beginning this treatment. Increased pressure can cause popping sounds in the ear from compression on middle ear structures. Over time, this can cause injury, so patients are given techniques to relieve this pressure. The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) considers pure oxygen to be a drug that can create toxic reactions in some people.

This treatment is not right for everyone. Patients with collapsed lungs, claustrophobia, or seizure disorders may not benefit from hyperbaric wound healing or may be harmed by the pressurizing process. Doctors would discontinue medications such as bleomycin, cisplatin, and suflamylon prior to initiating this treatment. A doctor will recommend that a patient quit smoking prior to commencing this treatment, as smokers show fewer benefits from this treatment method.

Studies show that this hyperbaric wound healing is not safe for pregnant women, but it can be used to treat children and infants. The effect of pressurized oxygen on the developing fetus is unknown. Hyperbaric wound healing is sometimes used in neonatal intensive care units (NICU) to promote post-operative healing in newborn infants. Young children are sometimes accompanied by a parent in the hyperbaric chamber.

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