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Patient Information
Hyperbaric Medicine

What is hyperbaric oxygen therapy?

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBO) is a medical treatment in which the entire body is placed under increased atmospheric pressure while the patient breathes 100% oxygen. This treatment, which is administered in a pressurized chamber, is proven effective for non-healing wounds, osteomyelitis that does not respond to standard treatment, problem surgical wounds, and skin grafts and flaps that are having trouble healing. HBO is also helpful with patients experiencing complications from radiation therapy.

The Hyperbaric Chamber

Our state-of-the-art electronic hyperbaric oxygen chambers are unique to the Treasure Valley. The chambers are designed for one person to be treated at a time. The chamber is clear, so you will be able to see outside and communicate with the hyperbaric technician at all times through an intercom system.

During treatment, the chamber is “compressed” to a pressure that is 2 to 2.4 times that of sea level. This is the same pressure a scuba diver feels at 33 to 45 feet under the surface of the ocean.

You will notice a lot of “air noise” during your treatment. This is a normal part of the chamber function.

How does the hyperbaric chamber work?

Normally, the atmosphere exerts 14.7 pounds per square inch of pressure on your body at sea level, while you breathe air that is approximately 21% oxygen and 79% nitrogen. During an HBO treatment, you will breathe 100% oxygen under increased atmospheric pressure within the chamber.

This combination of high concentrations of oxygen and increased pressure causes large amounts of oxygen to be dissolved in your blood and tissues, typically 10 to 15 times the usual amount. This dissolved oxygen can penetrate areas that red blood cells cannot reach, revitalizing tissues that receive poor blood flow.

What will I feel during treatment?

During your treatment, you lie down inside the chamber. The chamber door will be closed, and you will begin to hear the air circulating. During this pressurization phase, you may feel a "fullness" or "pressure" sensation in your ears. A hyperbaric technician will be outside the chamber at all times to assist and coach you on how to clear your ears and address any other needs you may have. Compression generally lasts five minutes, depending on how effectively you are able to clear your ears. When you have reached the prescribed treatment pressure, the "fullness" or "pressure" sensation will cease. During treatment, you will be able to watch TV or a movie, or listen to music or a book on CD. The total treatment time is approximately two hours.

Are there any other effects?

Generally, patients do not experience side effects from HBO. However, some patients report a crackling sensation in their ears between treatments. This may be relieved in the same manner you clear your ears during compression. If the crackling sound continues, please tell one of our staff members. As with all medical procedures and treatments, there are some side effects that may result from exposure to the hyperbaric oxygen. These are rare, but will be discussed with you in detail by the physician before your treatment.

Treatment Goals

In about 80% of cases, significant healing is seen. Not every patient will respond well to treatments. If no improvement is seen within 15 to 20 treatments, or “dives,” the chance of success is lessened.

After 20 to 30 treatments, when there is a good response, hyperbaric therapy may be stopped. Your body has been given the “kick start” it needed to help you finish healing on your own. For radiation and osteomyelitis, 30 to 40 treatments may be required.

Each dive takes approximately 2 ½ hours total. This can involve a good portion of your time, but it is very important that you have all your treatments. Treatments are scheduled Monday through Friday.

Throughout your treatment, it is important that you stay in contact with your primary care physician. Our physicians are fully licensed, but their specialty is in hyperbaric medicine and wound care. For problems not related to your wound care, your physician must remain your constant source of care. Our physicians will keep your primary physician updated on our progress with your care.

During Your Treatment

  • Do not use any tobacco products while being treated with hyperbaric oxygen. Smoking prevents full oxygen use by the blood and decreases the size of your blood vessels.
  • Keep your physician up to date on your current medications.
  • If you become ill (cold, sinus problems, diarrhea, nausea, swollen feet, problems breathing, chest pains, low blood sugar, etc.), inform your primary care physician. If you need to cancel your hyperbaric treatment, please let us know as soon as possible.
  • If you have diabetes, we will check your blood sugar at the beginning and end of the treatment. HBO can lower your blood sugar. Your blood sugar should be above 120 before entering the chamber.
  • You may take a beverage in an approved container into the chamber with you.

Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy Consultations

Successful therapy requires a team management approach. After referral from your primary care physician, you will be evaluated by a physician at St. Luke's Clinic – Wound Center. A treatment regimen* will be designed for your individual needs. This treatment regimen, along with other recommendations, will be shared with your referring physician, who will remain responsible for your general medical management.

To arrange a consultation with one of our physician specialists, talk with your primary care physician or call St. Luke's Clinic – Wound Center at (208) 489-5800.

*Oxygen intake under increased atmospheric pressure is a potent drug; therefore, hyperbaric oxygen must be administered carefully to avoid toxic effects. This is why protocols established by the Undersea and Hyperbaric Medical Society (UHMS), the patient’s clinical response, and other factors are used to determine the number of treatments required.

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