There’s a wonderful world of alternative therapies out there just waiting to be discovered. This month, we shine a light on hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT)
No, it’s not a sci-fi movie prop – but it is fantastically ingenious technology! It’s called a hyperbaric chamber, and it’s saturated with 100 percent oxygen to cleverly speed up the body’s natural healing process Usually, the air we breathe is only made of 21 percent oxygen – a surprisingly low amount – which can only be transported around our bodies by red blood cells. However, when we take in an increased amount of beneficial oxygen, it can be absorbed by all of the body’s fluids and carried to areas where circulation is diminished or blocked. This then enhances the ability of white blood cells to kill bacteria, reduces swelling, allows new blood vessels to grow more rapidly and restores function to damaged cells and organs.
So, a simple, non-invasive and painless treatment that just boosts the body’s natural healing? It sounds too good to be true – surely there are some risks? Not according to Professor Philip James, emeritus professor of hyperbaric medicine at the University of Dundee and one of the UK’s foremost experts in the subject. “The oxygen we breathe normally is involved in repairing and regenerating tissue all the time. All hyperbaric oxygenation does is use a higher concentration of oxygen.”
Since the healing can affect any area of the body, HBOT can be used to treat a myriad of health conditions, including serious wounds, infections, cancer, chronic pain, multiple sclerosis, autism, brain trauma and stroke after-effects. In fact, it’s steadily increasing in popularity, especially among overworked athletes and sports stars, with some calling it a ‘miracle cure.’ To meet the growing demand, HBOT chambers have sprung up across a range of facilities, from hospital outpatient departments to – funnily enough – spas.
So, how is it done? As mentioned previously, HBOT is administered in a secure and comfortable purposebuilt chamber, which is saturated with 100 percent pure oxygen at an atmospheric pressure up to twice as high as normal – that sounds a little scary at first, but Professor Philip James explains that it’s actually pretty normal: “Every time you go up in an aeroplane you are sitting in a hyperbaric chamber.”
All patients are in constant view and communication with the attending technician via an intercom, and can just enjoy themselves for the hour that a session takes. Most simply watch a movie, listen to music or just rest, while their bodies work their magic – how wonderful! To find out more and locate a nearby treatment centre, visit hyperbaricoxygentherapy.org.uk
Everything you need to know about your first session
For the best results, only clean cotton clothing is allowed in the HBOT chamber, and patients are asked to give up smoking and any other tobacco products beforehand, since they interfere with the body’s ability to transport oxygen. Flammable items such as lighters or batterypowered devices are not allowed into the chamber, and occasionally cosmetics, perfumes and hair preparations and jewellery are also disallowed. Treatment usually consists of an initial 20 sessions spread over one month, each lasting an hour, plus any required follow-up treatment at less frequent intervals.
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