How Does Hyperbaric Therapy Work?

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy helps wound healing by bringing oxygen-rich plasma to tissue starved for oxygen. Wound injuries damage the body's blood vessels, which release fluid that leaks into the tissues and causes swelling. This swelling deprives the damaged cells of oxygen, and tissue starts to die. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy reduces swelling while flooding the tissues with oxygen—the elevated pressure in the chamber can produce a 10 to 15-fold increase in the amount of oxygen in the blood. It aims to break the cycle of swelling, oxygen starvation, and tissue death. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy prevents "reperfusion injury." That's the severe tissue damage that occurs when the blood supply returns to the tissues after they have been deprived of oxygen. When blood flow is interrupted by a crush injury, for instance, a cascade of events inside the damaged cells leads to the release of harmful oxygen radicals. These molecules can do irreversible damage to tissues and cause the blood vessels to clamp up and stop blood flow. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy encourages the body's oxygen radical scavengers to seek out the problem molecules and thus allow healing to proceed. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy helps block the action of harmful bacteria and strengthens the body's immune system. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy can inactivate the toxins of certain bacteria and it also increases oxygen concentration in the tissues, which helps them resist infection. In addition, the therapy improves the ability of white blood cells to find and destroy invaders. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy encourages the formation of new collagen (connective tissue) and new skin cells. It does so by encouraging new blood vessel formation. It also stimulates cells to produce certain substances, like vascular endothelial growth factor, which attract and stimulate endothelial cells necessary for healing.