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Science of HBO

How does HBO work?

Air contains nearly 21% oxygen, and more than 78% nitrogen. During hyperbaric oxygen (HBO) therapy the oxygen percentage breathed by the patient is increased to 100%, i.e. almost five times more than in air.

The pressure of the oxygen breathed by the patient in HBO is usually 2-3 times  greater than atmospheric pressure. So, during HBO therapy the patient is breathing 10-15 times more oxygen than they would be when breathing air at normal pressure.

During treatment oxygen is breathed through the lungs, dissolved in the blood plasma, and transported around the body via the blood supply.  Even where the blood supply is poor, the high levels of oxygen dissolved in the plasma provide significantly elevated levels.  The effects of the extra oxygen vary according to the type of tissue they reach and the underlying condition that has prompted the use of HBO.  Some of the reported effects include:

  • Improved white blood cell function – important to fight infection and reduce stickiness after injury
  • Reduction of inflammation and swelling
  • Development and growth of new blood vessels (neoangiogenesis)
  • Increased bone growth and bone repair
  • Improved antibiotic activity
  • Increased collagen deposition and improved ligament and tendon repair
  • Compression of gas bubbles
  • Suppression of toxin production in some infections
  • Increased circulation of stem cells from bone marrow

HBO is like any other medicine or drug, with indications, contra-indications and potential side-effects.  It needs to be appropriately prescribed as it is possible to have too much oxygen in the blood stream.

DDRC Healthcare is a charity which works to increase the understanding and use of HBO. 

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