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The Evidence Around Hyperbaric Chambers

Updated on October 11, 2011

There is strong scientific evidence to prove that time spent in hyperbaric chambers, in an oxygen rich high pressure atmosphere is beneficial for many pathologies. The Committee on Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy of the Undersea and Hyperbaric Medicine says the treatment can be efficacious in the treatment of:

Decompression sickness, arterial gas embolism, carbon monoxide (with or without cyanide) poisoning, delayed radiation damage to the soft tissue or bones, including osteoradionecrosis, gas gangrene (a severe infection), skin grafts and flaps that are slow in healing under the usual treatment methods, necrotic soft tissue infections where the tissue is dying, anemia due to severe blood loss and where transfusions are a worse alternative, crushing injuries where there is insufficient oxygen to the tissues.

Other particular wounds that are not healing under normal treatment also benefit from time in hyperbaric chambers, common burns, abscess in the brain area, osteomyelitis or chronic bone inflammation again that is not responding to standard treatment and blockage of the retinal artery or the blood vessels at the rear of the eyeball.

These are all evidenced uses of time spent in hyperbaric chambers. For some of these conditions, hyperbaric chambers are the treatment of choice. While for others the hyperbaric chamber is one of a menu of options to consider. There is conflicting evidence about whether hyperbaric chambers are beneficial in treating quickly spreading skin infections and underlying tissue.

A recent medical research project undertaken in Sweden took 2 groups of 47 patients all suffering from diabetic foot ulcers. The first group spent up to 40 sessions in hyperbaric chambers. 85 minutes for 5 days each week, for 8 weeks as placebo control sessions while the second group actually had the same number of sessions in hyperbaric conditions. Of the control group only 29% were healed within a year while 52% were healed under the hyperbaric chambers therapy.

Furthermore those in the treatment group who took more than 35 hyperbaric chamber sessions had an even higher healing rate of 61%. The risk, in such cases. of loss of limb through amputation seems to be reduced but further study is required to gain more evidence and also to identify those cases where the procedure can be most successful.

Another smaller study of 58 women with lymphedema (swollen limbs post mastectomy and irradiation) in 2010 was inconclusive. The only thing that can be said for sure is that more randomized research needs to be done to evaluate the claims of organizations with commercial hyperbaric chambers.

At this time there is no reason to believe that hyperbaric chambers prevents the growth of cancer cells, kills germs, works against allergies, or is efficacious in cases of chronic fatigue syndrome, cirrhosis, multiple sclerosis, autism, stroke, cerebral palsy, arthritis, senility, or gastrointestinal ulcers.

There are some scientific studies proceeding to discover if hyperbaric chambers may be effective against migraines, cluster headaches and heart attacks as well as a number of other conditions.


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