Hyperbaric Medicine FAQ
For people with chronic, non-healing wounds, hyperbaric oxygen therapy can provide relief from symptoms and promote healing. Below, we’ve answered some of your common questions about this treatment.
What is hyperbaric oxygen therapy?
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is a medical treatment that provides 100 percent oxygen in a pressurized chamber. At CHI Franciscan Health, we use this therapy to treat conditions ranging from chronic wounds, burns, crush injuries, hard-to-manage infections in bones or soft tissues, diabetic foot wounds and many others.
What medical conditions can hyperbaric oxygen therapy treat?
For wound healing, HBO increases blood oxygen levels to bring more oxygen to damaged tissues to promote repair. Our experienced wound care staff uses HBO to treat conditions including:
- Actinomycosis, a chronic bacterial infection that affects the face and neck
- Acute traumatic peripheral ischemia, such as a crush injury or open fracture that tears major arteries
- Compromised skin grafts and flaps
- Diabetic foot wounds
- Gas gangrene
- Necrotizing fasciitis, a rare bacterial infection that spreads quickly and destroys soft tissues (also known as “flesh-eating” infection)
- Non-healing osteomyelitis (bone infection most often caused by bacteria)
- Osteoradionecrosis, a rare complication of radiation therapy for cancer, which damages bone cells and leads to bone deterioration or death
- Soft tissue radionecrosis, similar to osteoradionecrosis but affecting soft tissues
- Surgical wounds
- Thermal burns caused by contact with flames or heated objects
- Trauma-related wounds
- Ulcers (pressure, diabetic, neuropathic or ischemic)
- Vasculitis, an inflammation of the blood vessels
How does hyperbaric oxygen therapy work?
Normally, the air we breathe is 21 percent oxygen. During HBO, you relax in a chamber while you breathe 100 percent pure oxygen.
The increased oxygen you breathe increases the amount of oxygen carried through your blood. The super-oxygenated blood helps fight infection, decrease swelling and encourage growth of new blood vessels.
Are there any side effects to hyperbaric oxygen therapy?
The most common side effect of HBO treatment is a brief fullness or popping sensation in your ears. Like any medical treatment, HBO may have other side effects. Negative side effects are rare, and your physician will discuss them with you in detail before your treatment.
What can I expect during a hyperbaric oxygen therapy treatment?
Your HBO session has three phases:
- Compression: Inside the chamber, you can hear the compression gas circulating. You may feel fullness or popping in your ears, similar to what you might feel when you fly or drive in the mountains. During this process, a certified hyperbaric technician outside the chamber will communicate with you and adjust the speed of compression so that it is comfortable for you.
- Treatment: When the pressure reaches the prescribed level, your treatment begins and lasts from 30 minutes to two hours. During this time, you may rest, sleep, listen to music or watch television.
- Decompression: The certified hyperbaric technician will let you know when the treatment is complete. He or she lowers the pressure at a rate that is comfortable to your ears.
What do I need to know before my hyperbaric therapy session?
If your doctor refers you to us for HBO therapy, we’ll spend time with you before your first treatment to review the process. Here’s what to plan on:
- Before starting your treatment session, you will change into a 100 percent cotton garment provided by the Center. For safety reasons, no other clothing may be worn inside the chamber, including:
- Make-up, nail polish, perfume, aftershave flammable materials Wigs/hairpieces, hairspray and hair oils.
- Hearing aids.
- Alcohol or petroleum based products.
- Metallic items (such as jewelry, watches, and coins).
- Ask your hyperbaric chamber technician if you can wear contact lenses during your treatment.
- You should also refrain from smoking or the use of any tobacco products during the entire course of therapy. Tobacco use will prolong or even prevent healing of a wound site due to its effect on the blood vessels in your body.
Does health insurance cover wound care and hyperbaric oxygen therapy?
Medicare, Medicaid and many private health insurance plans cover treatment for wound care and hyperbaric medicine. Your coverage depends on your specific plan. You can review your benefits to see whether your plan covers treatment, or you can contact your health insurance company. Be sure to bring your health insurance cards when you visit our wound care clinics.
Contact us for expert wound care
To learn more about our wound care and hyperbaric services at CHI Franciscan, please call:
- Bremerton area: 360-744-6496
- Burien area: 206-988-5724
- Tacoma area: 253-426-6739 (wound care) or 253-426-6630 (hyperbaric medicine)