Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is a medical treatment used to manage a limited but diverse number of illnesses and diseases. It is the primary treatment in some cases but is commonly employed in conjunction with other medical care and surgical procedures.
Sentara offers hyperbaric medicine services at the following locations: Sentara Leigh Hospital
- Norfolk Sentara Obici Hospital
- Suffolk Sentara Port Warwick
- Newport News Sentara Wound Healing Center
How does hyperbaric oxygen therapy work and what can it treat?
This form of treatment uses a hyperbaric (high-pressure) chamber to produce very high levels of oxygen in the blood and tissues of the body.
These levels of oxygen, not achievable without a chamber, result in several direct and delayed healing effects.
Key immediate effects include:
Support of critically damaged tissues, such as extremity crushing injuries
Support of poorly oxygenated skin flap and skin graft procedures
Elimination of toxic carbon monoxide
Resolution of gas bubbles in divers suffering decompression sickness.
Most commonly, hyperbaric oxygen therapy is employed for its ability to generate healing responses over time. Patients who would benefit from this process are those who have lower extremity ulcers and wounds that have failed to heal despite standard care. Some of these cases will likely benefit from the addition of hyperbaric oxygen therapy if a lack of oxygen supply at the wound or ulcer can be demonstrated. An important part of the evaluation of patients by the hyperbaric medicine team is a simple noninvasive test to see if oxygen levels are in need of improvement.
Another important category of patients who will benefit from this enhanced healing capability are those who have been treated with radiation therapy for cancer. Many months to several years later, a small percentage of patients will develop bone and soft tissue wounds at their site of previous radiation. These wounds can be readily visible on the skin surface or found deep within the body’s various organs by specialized assessment techniques.
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy has evolved to become an important standard of care for these late radiation complications.
What conditions may lead to a referral for hyperbaric oxygen therapy?*
Acute carbon monoxide poisoning
Cerebral arterial gas embolism
Crush injury; compartment syndrome
Compromised skin grafts and skin flaps
Enhancement of healing
Exceptional blood loss anemia
Late radiation tissue injury
Necrotizing soft tissue infections
Sudden sensorineural hearing loss
*Undersea and Hyperbaric Medical Society, 2013
How are patients referred?
Patients are referred for hyperbaric medicine evaluation and treatment recommendations by either their primary or specialty physicians.
In those with an urgent need to undergo hyperbaric oxygen therapy, including patients requiring advanced monitoring and other critical care support, Sentara Leigh Hospital will be the hospital of choice. For the more stable patients, all three Sentara hyperbaric facilities are equally suitable and readily available.
How are treatments administered?
Patients will typically spend two hours inside the clear pressurized hyperbaric chamber once daily, five days weekly, for wound healing problems. Depending upon several factors, the treatment course will range from between 20 and 40 treatments. Some more urgent conditions may resolve with a single treatment or require as many as 20. During each treatment patients are constantly monitored by a physician and nursing team. Patients typically watch TV, listen to music or nap.
What do treatments feel like?
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is a comfortable and generally well-tolerated procedure. Patients will experience a sensation of fullness in their ears during the several minutes of chamber pressurization. This sensation is largely identical to that experienced while flying in an airplane or driving down a mountain, as the eardrums respond to changes in pressure. Patients are taught how to effectively manage these changes. There may be a very slight warming sensation as the treatment begins and a corresponding cooling towards its end. Every effort is made to ensure patient comfort.
Sentara Wound Healing Centers