Safe and Effective Hyperbaric oxygen therapy uses unique, scientific approach for wound treatment
It’s been around for hundreds of years, but it’s only been during the lifetime of Vaughan Hall, MD, FAAFP, that science has fully harnessed the power of hyperbaric oxygen therapy. Dr. Hall is medical director of the Hyperbaric Center at Parkwest, and his job never gets old.
“I love it,” Dr. Hall says. “Most of my patients leave here very happy, and that’s very rewarding.”
Those patients often come to Dr. Hall when they have exhausted all other options for relief from wounds that won’t heal. The therapy primarily treats diabetic foot wounds, late radiation therapy injury, and surgical wounds. “Think about soda pop,” Dr. Hall explains. “They take carbon dioxide gas, put it under pressure, and force it to dissolve in water, and we do the same thing with oxygen.”
Dr. Hall says that in hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT), patients and oxygen are put under pressure and oxygen is forced to dissolve into blood serum, increasing the amount of oxygen the blood is carrying by 800 to 1,000 percent. This process enables healing of wounds that the body can’t heal on its own.
“It also causes angiogenesis, allowing new blood vessels to grow,” Dr. Hall says, explaining that experiences like diabetes and radiation therapy for cancer can damage or even destroy blood vessels.
While the process looks like something out of a science fiction movie – patients are placed in a chamber and wear large, plastic hoods – Pam Fisher of Athens is a believer. She underwent successful radiation therapy for her breast cancer, but that treatment left its mark. Fisher developed a painful knot where her cancer had been targeted. “I had lots of issues with mobility and pain from the radiation,” Fisher says. “It was so painful I couldn’t even touch my chest, and I couldn’t lie down on my left side.” The pain was constant, and Fisher says it just seemed to get worse over time. She began HBOT after a diagnosis of costochondritis (inflammation of the cartilage in the rib cage) and radiation fibrosis.
“The treatment is really easy and really great,” Fisher says. She confesses that the first time she put on the hood she was a little fearful that she wouldn’t be able to breathe, but a technician patiently calmed her fears. “The technicians are amazing, and the doctors are amazing,” Fisher says. The progress happened gradually, until one day she realized she was healing from the inside out. “I’d roll over in bed, and talk to my husband and realize I was lying on my left side!”
Dr. Hall says the treatment is safe, noninvasive and completely natural. “The only ‘drug’ we use is oxygen,” he says. Fisher might have been able to get some relief from her radiation therapy with pain medication, but that’s something she preferred not to do. “I’d rather find out what’s wrong than just mask the pain,” Fisher says. “Why not get it corrected?” If there’s a challenging aspect to HBOT, it’s that the treatment takes time. Patients are treated six days a week, and in Fisher’s case, a total of 49 treatment sessions. Fisher says the time she spent in the HBOT chamber pales in comparison to the amount of time she spent fighting cancer.
“It’s absolutely 100 percent worth going,” Fisher says of the therapy. “It’s totally worth it.”
Fisher says hyperbaric oxygen therapy has changed her life in many positive ways. “When you’re in pain, it’s not just physical. It’s emotional, and it’s mental; you get depressed; you can’t do your normal activities, and you’re hurting,” Fisher says. “If you can do something that takes the pain away, it doesn’t just affect you physically. It affects your entire life.”
Dr. Hall emphasizes that the treatment is very safe and very effective. “We know how it works and why it works,” he says. “There’s all the science behind it that you need, and we usually see about 98 percent effectiveness in our patients.”