Wednesday’s Ask Dr. Walt — Hyperbaric oxygen therapy

Dear Dr. Walt,

Any thoughts about hyperbaric oxygen therapy? Is it any good? Or a waste of time and money?

—Needing Oxygen in Colorado

Dear Hypoxic,

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy involves breathing pure oxygen, usually in a pressurized room. In the hyperbaric oxygen therapy chamber, the air pressure is increased to three times higher than normal air pressure. Under these conditions, your lungs can gather more oxygen than would be possible breathing pure oxygen at normal air pressure. Your blood carries this oxygen throughout your body. This helps fight bacteria and stimulate the release of substances called growth factors and stem cells, which promote healing.

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is used to treat several medical conditions, although various medical institutions use it in different ways. Your doctor may suggest hyperbaric oxygen therapy if you have one of the following conditions: Anemia (severe), brain abscess, bubbles of air in your blood vessels (arterial gas embolism), burns, decompression sickness, carbon monoxide poisoning, crush injuries, deafness (sudden), gangrene, infection of skin or bone that causes tissue death, non-healing wounds (such as a diabetic foot ulcer), radiation injury, a kin graft or skin flap at risk of tissue death, or vision loss (that is sudden and painless).

However, a lot of quacks are setting up hyperbaric oxygen rooms and trying to lure all sorts of folks to give up their hard-earned money for diseases in which there is little of no evidence supporting the therapy. Mayo Clinic says that evidence is insufficient to support claims that hyperbaric oxygen therapy can effectively treat the following conditions: AIDS/HIV, allergies, Alzheimer’s disease, arthritis, asthma, autism, Bell’s palsy, brain injury, any type of cancer, cerebral palsy, chronic fatigue syndrome, cirrhosis, depression, fibromyalgia, GI ulcers, heart disease, heatstroke, hepatitis, migraine, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, spinal cord injury, sports injuries, or stroke.

Although hyperbaric oxygen therapy is generally a safe procedure. Complications are rare. But this treatment does carry some risk, including: Temporary nearsightedness (myopia, caused by temporary eye lens changes), middle ear injuries (including leaking fluid and eardrum rupture, due to increased air pressure changes), lung collapse caused by air pressure changes (barotrauma), seizures as a result of too much oxygen (oxygen toxicity) in your central nervous system, and, in rare circumstances, fire — due to the oxygen-rich environment of the treatment chamber.

This Q&A was originally published in the May 2015 edition of Today’s Christian Living.

© Copyright WLL, INC. 2016. This blog provides a wide variety of general health information only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment from your regular physician. If you are concerned about your health, take what you learn from this blog and meet with your personal doctor to discuss your concerns.

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