What Is Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy? How a Space-Age Tube Can Heal Wounds and More


Inside Emerson Hospital’s Center for Specialty Care in Concord, there is a large piece of equipment that looks like it belongs on The Jetsons TV show. In reality, this equipment, known as a hyperbaric oxygen chamber, is often called a lifesaver by the people who use it to receive hyperbaric oxygen (HBO) therapy to heal deep, painful wounds and cure other ailments, including ulcers and even sudden hearing loss.

We are fortunate to have HBO therapy available for the community. We asked Diana Cuypers, BSN, RN, program director of the Advanced Wound Care Center at Emerson Hospital, what HBO therapy is, how it works, and what patients experience.

What is Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy?

HBO is a way of using a hundred percent oxygen under pressure to heal wounds. It is safe and pain-free. Originally, HBO was used in the military to treat decompression sickness in sea divers. Over the years, doctors and researchers realized the healing potential of HBO for many diagnoses.

How does HBO Therapy work?

Patients lay down in a clear tube where they breathe a hundred percent oxygen under pressure. This causes the blood vessels to constrict and move the blood faster through the body, encouraging your body to heal faster.

It is akin to when you put your thumb over a water hose and you see the pressure — the water goes fast around your thumb. In the HBO chamber, it does the same thing with the blood flow in your body. When the blood flows faster to the wounds, it brings nutrients, food, and oxygen, and helps the tissue heal faster. Patients feel no pain and describe it as a comfortable experience.

What are some medical issues that HBO can help with?

There are a variety of diagnoses that can be treated with hyperbaric oxygen therapy. Diabetic foot ulcers can be treated, along with skin flaps from surgery that do not heal well.

HBO can also help wounds heal that develop after radiation for cancer treatment. For example, in some cases HBO is the only therapy that can help heal patients who have cystitis, internal bleeding from the bladder after radiation.

In addition, patients who receive radiation for head, neck and throat cancers may benefit from HBO prior to teeth extraction. Oral surgeons can refer patients to HBO before their tooth is extracted to decrease the possibility of infections and other complications.

What do patients experience when they do HBO?

Patients lie on their backs on a comfortable stretcher in a chamber, which is surrounded with a clear acrylic glass. They have pillows and warm blankets. They can watch TV, meditate, sleep, or talk with the experienced nurse or HBO technician who stays in the room with them throughout the treatment.

The therapy sessions take approximately two hours, usually Monday to Friday for approximately 30 sessions. After each treatment, patients can leave the chamber, and resume their normal daily activities. HBO therapy is a process that can improve a person’s life and help them live pain-free.

Does the patient feel anything when they are in the chamber?

It is a relaxing experience, but people can feel like they have exercised because their body is working hard when it is in the chamber. Patients often say they feel tired, like they do after an aerobic work-out.

What does the research tell us about HBO?

Research has proven that HBO is a very safe way to reduce healing time by 50 percent. For example, if you had a deep wound that might normally take six months to heal, with HBO it could take half that time to heal, so three months.

How can someone start to receive HBO therapy?

If you have a deep wound or think you would benefit from HBO therapy for other symptoms, call Emerson’s Center for Advanced Wound Care at 978-287-8550. A physician will evaluate you and determine if you are a good candidate for hyperbaric oxygen therapy. We will then guide you through the process and be with you every step of the way. Our staff is expert at ensuring your safety and comfort. Patients often enjoy coming in for their daily appointments, and we enjoy getting to know them through the process.

Listen to the Podcast

Diana Cuypers, BSN, RN, program director for the Center for Advanced Wound Care and Hyperbaric Medicine at Emerson Hospital, gives a brief overview of what HBO therapy is, how it works, and what patients will experience.

Subscribe to the Health Works Here Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts and wherever podcasts can be heard.

Emerson Hospital’s Center for Advanced Wound Care recently received a National Quality Award from Restorix Health Corporation, highlighting its commitment to quality and safety.


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