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How Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy Works

The Center for Wound Healing provides hyperbaric oxygen therapy, a medical treatment that allows patients to breathe pure oxygen while lying inside a pressurized chamber. Typically, patients feel no differently than when lying in bed. They may watch movies on a DVD player or nap throughout therapy.

"When 100 percent oxygen is delivered at increased pressure, it increases the amount of oxygen delivered to organs and tissues in the body," explains Paul Burke, MD, Vascular Surgeon for Lowell General. "This improves the effects of certain antibiotics, activates white blood cells to fight infection, and promotes the healing process of chronic wounds." For the most effective treatment, patients typically receive 90 minutes of therapy, five days a week, for several weeks.

Your First Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy Visit

Usually your primary care physician or surgeon makes the referral. However, you may choose to come to the center on your own for the consultation. Before beginning treatment, the doctors, nurses and therapists of the Center for Wound Healing will evaluate your wound and review your medical history and general health. You may be asked to undergo special tests to provide us with important information about your blood flow, tissue oxygenation and whether or not infection is complicating the healing process.

A few things you should bring to assist in the registration process:

  • A list of current medications and any known allergies
  • Previous medical records including recent reports, x-rays (if available from the last 3 months)
  • Any insurance forms or cards

What Will I Feel During the Treatment?

Once you are in the chamber and the door is closed, you will hear the oxygen begin to circulate, and we will start the gradual increase in pressure. This is called compression. There may be some warmth that you notice, but this is temporary. A nurse/technician will remain with you during the treatment, to adjust the rate of compression according to your tolerance and to coach you on how to relieve the “full” sensation, which you may feel in your ears. This feeling is similar to what you may have felt while traveling down a mountain, flying or sky diving. We will coach you on how to clear your ears.

When you have reached the prescribed pressure the fullness in your ears will cease, and you may rest or sleep during the remainder of the treatment. You may also watch TV or a DVD movie during this time, which will be about two hours. The temperature in the chamber is similar to room temperature, but may be adjusted slightly. We can give you an extra blanket if needed.

Near the end of your treatment the nurse/technician will gradually decrease the pressure that was added at the beginning. This is called the decompression phase. During decompression, you experience a “popping” sensation in your ears as a result of the changing pressure. This popping is a normal adjustment in your ears, similar to what happens when you are driving up a mountain.


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