Hyperbaric Medicine Oxygen Therapy

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is a medical treatment that allows a person to breathe 100 percent oxygen while they are in a pressurized chamber. This therapy is used to treat a variety of conditions and diseases, ranging from chronic wounds, carbon monoxide poisoning, decompression sickness (typically associated with diving accidents), chronic bone infections and many others.

CHI Franciscan Health and Praxis Clinical Services provide hyperbaric oxygen therapy at St. Joseph Medical Center in Tacoma.

What Is Hyperbaric Oxygen Treatment
How It Works
What to Expect
For Patients
For Physicians
Contact Us
Learn More

What Is Hyperbaric Oxygen Treatment?
hyperbarHyperbaric oxygen (HBO) therapy was initially used to treat SCUBA divers suffering from the “bends.” Also known as decompression sickness, the bends is caused when a diver ascends to the surface too quickly for nitrogen to be released from his or her body.

With HBO therapy for decompression sickness, recompression is achieved as nitrogen bubbles are reduced in size or reabsorbed to ensure adequate blood flow.

HBO’s medical uses
Over time, hyperbaric oxygen therapy has proven to be very effective in treating many other diseases, as well. It does not replace other reliable treatments such as surgery and medication, but is generally prescribed in conjunction with other therapies. In the case of, wound healing, HBO facilitates increased oxygen intake to create an abundance of oxygen in the body’s tissues, speeding repair of tissue damage.

Accepted indications for hyperbaric oxygen therapy encompass a wide range of medical conditions, including:

  • Air or gas embolism (blocked arteries)
  • Carbon monoxide poisoning
  • Crush injuries
  • Cyanide poisoning
  • Decompression sickness
  • Non-healing wound
  • Hard-to-manage infections (certain types)
  • Serious anemia caused by blood loss
  • Gas gangrene
  • Soft tissue infections
  • Non-healing osteomyelitis (bone infection)
  • Radiation necrosis
  • Compromised skin grafts or flaps
  • Thermal burns
  • Diabetic foot wounds

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How it works
Normally, the air we breathe is 21 percent oxygen. During HBO, you relax in a chamber while you breathe 100 percent, pure oxygen. The pressure surrounding your body is slowly increased to two or three times normal. The increased oxygen you breathe also increases the amount of oxygen carried through your blood. This abundance of super-oxygenated blood helps fight infection, decrease swelling and encourages growth of new vessels.

The most common side effect to HBO treatment is for patients to feel a “fullness” or popping sensation in their ears, which lasts only briefly. As with any medical treatment, there may also be other effects. Negative side effects are rare and your doctor will discuss these aspects in detail with you prior to treatment.

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What to expect
HBO treatments include three phases:

Compression. After the doors are closed, you can hear the compression gas as it circulates throughout the chamber. You can feel a fullness in your ears, similar to what you might feel when you fly or drive in the mountains. During this process, an attendant sitting outside the chamber will communicate with you and adjust the speed of compression so it is comfortable for you.

Treatment. Treatment begins when the pressure reaches the prescribed level. During the treatment you may rest, sleep, listen to music or watch television.

Decompression. The attendant will let you know when the treatment is complete. The pressure is lowered at a rate that is comfortable to your ears.

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For patients
If your doctor refers you to us for HBO therapy, we will spend time with you prior to your first treatment to make sure you understand what to expect.

Generally, we will remind you not to smoke before treatment, since tobacco products constrict blood vessels and will inhibit the increased blood and oxygen delivery to your tissues. We will ask you for a list of all medications you take, including non-prescription drugs, as some of these may affect your body’s reaction to oxygen.

We will provide a safe place for you to leave your personal effects during treatment, and we will provide a cotton garment for you to wear.

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For physicians
We welcome referrals from physicians treating patients with conditions that may be improved through hyperbaric oxygen therapy. To learn more, please contact us:

Heidi J. Smidt, BSN, ACHRN, Hyperbaric Medicine Program Manager 253-426-6630
Paul Schneider, MD 253-853-2702
Raheela Sadiq, MD 253-853-2702
Ahmad Abadullah, MD 253-853-2702
David Bales, MD 253-858-9192

You can also view “Pressure Points,” our clinical newsletter, for detailed clinical information about the use of hyperbaric oxygen treatment for:
Soft Tissue Radiation Injury (PDF)
Osteoradionecrosis (PDF)
Wound Healing (PDF)
Diabetic Wounds of the Lower Extremity (PDF)
Carbon Monoxide Poisoning (PDF)

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Contact us
Hyperbaric Medicine Service
St. Joseph Medical Center
1717 South J Street
Tacoma, WA 98405

Phone: 253-426-6630
Fax: 253-426-6545

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Learn more
American Diabetes Association (ADA)

Carbon monoxide poisoning
Carbon monoxide poisoning prevention

Decompression sickness
National Association of Rescue Divers
Diver’s Alert Network

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