What is hyperbaric medicine?
Hyperbaric medicine is the specialty that uses high pressure oxygen to treat a number of complex medical conditions. The treatment involves using a hyperbaric chamber to increase pressure while the patient breathes 100% oxygen, which significantly increases the oxygen level in the blood stream and subsequently all cells of the body. Hyperbaric chambers may be pressurized from 1.5 to 3x the normal atmospheric pressure.
What types of conditions does hyperbaric therapy help treat?
Increased oxygen levels help speed many healing processes. To mention a few; activation of cells needed to heal wounds, improve antibiotic effectiveness, and increase the growth of new blood vessels. Hyperbaric therapy is often used to treat conditions where tissues are deprived of oxygen. This may occur after radiation treatment for cancer, diabetic ulcers/wounds of the legs and feet, or serious infections such as the flesh-eating disease. Additional uses for hyperbaric medicine may include post-mastectomy flap failures, air bubbles in blood vessels, and carbon monoxide poisoning.
Radiation patients respond to hyperbaric treatment very well. Radiation therapy causes inflammation to the lining of blood vessels, hindering circulation that eventually causes oxygen deprivation known as hypoxia. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy helps by regrowing blood vessels to replace ones that were lost.
Hyperbaric oxygen treatment is also the best way to help treat decompression sickness, which occurs from resurfacing too quickly while scuba diving. The Phelps hyperbaric practice is geared directly towards undersea medicine. Not only do we treat those with decompression sickness—we also deal with the healthcare of divers and anyone who works in the compressed air industry.
What is it like to be in a hyperbaric chamber?
The hyperbaric chamber at Phelps Hospital is the largest in the Northeastern United States. We can accommodate up to 12 patients during a single treatment and are one of few centers on call to treat emergencies. Hyperbaric treatments typically last 2 hours. Hyperbaric team members are in the chamber with you and the Phelps team is one of the most experienced hyperbaric teams in the nation.
You may experience ear fullness when the chamber is compressed, similar to what you feel when flying. Most patients do very well with minimal, if any, difficulty. Oxygen has no taste or smell, so breathing oxygen during treatment feels the same as breathing normal air.
How can a patient receive hyperbaric therapy?
Typically, hyperbaric therapy is part of an ongoing treatment plan. Either one or many hyperbaric sessions may be required depending on your diagnosis and the severity of your condition. The FDA and Undersea and Hyperbaric Medical Society (UHMS) have approved many medical conditions for which hyperbaric therapy is recommended. Most insurance plans cover hyperbaric oxygen treatments. Every insurance company has different coverage determinations, so we encourage patients to contact their insurance provider to verify that hyperbaric treatment is covered by their individual plan.
Undersea & Hyperbaric Medicine and hyperbaric oxygen treatment can be an integral part of your recovery. To learn more about hyperbaric treatment at Phelps, visit us online at https://phelps.northwell.edu/clinical-services/hyperbaric-medicine.