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Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy

Virginia Hospital Center’s Hyperbaric Center has achieved  the prestigious Undersea & Hyperbaric Medical Society (UHMS) Clinical Hyperbaric Facility Accreditation.  Of the approximately one thousand hyperbaric centers currently in operation in the United States, less than 10% are accredited by the UHMS.

Hyperbaric oxygen (HBO) therapy uses a special chamber to allow a person to breathe 100% oxygen. HBO can treat the conditions such as:

  • Problem wounds that will not heal with conventional therapy
  • Skin grafts and flaps that are infected or have not healed
  • Bones that once received radiation
  • Tissue that once received radiation
  • Bone that has been infected by bacteria

What is a hyperbaric chamber?

Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy

A hyperbaric chamber is a large compartment, usually made of acrylic and aluminum, designed to withstand a large increase in internal pressure. The chamber is big enough for patients to lie down and it is equipped with a large clear acrylic tube so that staff may monitor patients during treatment sessions. In addition, patients and staff are able to communicate via an intercom system while the patient is receiving treatment.

How does it work?

The air we breathe is a mixture of oxygen, nitrogen and other gases. Our bodies are usually able to heal themselves with a normal oxygen level, but in certain conditions extra oxygen is required. During HBO therapy, the pressure is increased with 100% oxygen. Breathing pure oxygen under pressure causes much more oxygen than usual to be dissolved in the blood and, subsequently, the rest of the body. The extra oxygen is used in many ways. Depending on the underlying problem, the oxygen can improve wound healing by reducing swelling, keeping infection under control and stimulating new blood vessel growth.

Frequency and duration:

The number of HBO treatments required varies depending on the patient's condition. Virginia Hospital Center offers treatments Monday through Friday, with one treatment per patient per day usually being given. Each treatment lasts two hours.

Are there any side effects?

Side effects are uncommon but may include discomfort in the ear and/or discomfort or pressure injuries to the lungs. Some patients may also experience visual changes causing nearsightedness (myopia); this is usually temporary and disappears within one or two months of finishing therapy.

How will it feel?

The first few minutes in the chamber will be noisy due to pressurized gas entering it. It will seem warm at first and then the temperature will adjust to a comfortable level. Patients will feel a change in pressure in their ears, similar to when descending in an airplane.

During treatment, patients are able to watch movies, listen to music or just close their eyes and relax. At the end of the treatment, the chamber pressure is reduced, the air will feel colder, and patients will feel their ears "popping".

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Wound Healing & Hyperbaric Medicine

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