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Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy
Dr Tarun Sahni
The healing power of oxygen under pressure, which was introduced in the private sector in India for the first time by Apollo Hospitals, is now being widely reported in global literature for a plethora of medical, cosmetic and anti-aging treatments.

What is Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBO)?
This treatment called Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBO) is an offshoot of treatment given to injured deep sea divers and caisson workers. Research in the past two decades has revealed
its efficacy in an increasing number of indications. Most modern hospitals in the west are incorporating this facility as part of their services for treatment of evidence based medical indications.

Hyperbaric Oxygen Treatment on Michael Jackson
Following the intense international media coverage given to the use of hyperbaric oxygen by Michael Jackson, many beauty clinics and spas are also offering this therapy for its acclaimed role in the cosmetic and beauty area. The term hyperbaric oxygen therapy is self explanatory, the hyper denoting high pressure (more than the normal atmospheric pressure) oxygen treatment. During Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy, the amount of oxygen carried in the blood is increased 10 times over. It is this increased availability of oxygen and the fact that it is at a higher pressure gradient that is responsible for the beneficial effects of hyperbaric oxygen.

Who Benefits from Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy
The patients who will benefit most are patients with acute traumatic wounds and crush injuries where hyperbaric oxygen if given early could be life and limb saving. Burns, gas, gangrene and compartment syndrome are other indications where addition of hyperbaric oxygen at the earliest can reduce morbidity and mortality. Patients exposed to smoke whilst in a fire have carbon monoxide poisoning for which HBO therapy is the first line of treatment to prevent permanent delayed neurological complications. Patients who have been suffering for years with non healing ulcers due to diabetes, radiation or any other cause now have hope that they might benefit from this therapy.

So also could patients with radiation induced complications like bone necrosis, cystitis etc. Decubitus ulcers (bed sores) in selective patients may heal faster with HBO therapy. This treatment expedites healing of bone in patients with chronic osteomyelitis when combined with conventional treatment. Intracranial abscesses, acute hearing loss and acute optic ischemias also benefit from HBO therapy. Hyperbaric oxygen has also been used for a variety of other medical ailments such as traumatic brain injuries, cerebral palsy and sports injuries. Its role in some of these conditions is still being researched.

While on the one side, Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy can alleviate mortality and morbidity due to severe life threatening illnesses for “evidence based indications,” on the other side, it is being promoted in cosmetic centers for its antiaging properties.
These centers claim that “this ultimate oxygen therapy treats the whole body while promoting beautiful, supple and more youthful looking skin. It gives more energy and lifts the mind while they relax.” Hyperbaric oxygen infuses the skin with oxygen while helping to reverse the physical and mental effects of oxygen deprivation from pollution (from air, water, food). Increased oxygen levels throughout the body help neutralize damaging free radicals, increase circulation, renew health cellular function and promote new capillary growth.

Is Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy Safe?
HBO when used for indicated treatment is relatively safe and has hardly any side effects when given under medical supervision. It is not mandatory for patients to be admitted for this therapy and most chronic care patients are treated on an outpatient basis. Time duration for treatment in individual patients varies from two to three days to about 40-60 days depending upon the indication, with each session lasting one and a half hours.
Dr Tarun Sahni is Head of Department of Hyperbaric Medicine, Apollo Indraprastha Hospitals, New Delhi. He is also the founder of the Hyperbaric Society of India and co founder of the Asian Hyperbaric and Diving Medicine Association

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