Hyperbaric Chamber Therapy

By Ron Hunninghake, M.D.

One of two in Wichita, Kansas, our hyperbaric chamber is truly unique. Hyperbaric therapy was originally used to treat deep sea divers who were thought to be suffering from the formation of air embolisms due to a too rapid ascent from their deep sea dive. Dr. Riordan’s son, Neil, was at one time a deep sea diver. Uncoincidentally, Neil was instrumental in the development of hyperbaric oxygen therapy here at the Riordan Clinic.

Neil was working as a Riordan Clinic physician’s assistant in the early 90’s. The story goes that Dr. Hugh Riordan had sent one of his patients for an evaluation of a non-healing wound on his foot, with the intent of proceeding on to hyperbaric oxygen treatment. Without checking back with Dr. Riordan, the consulting surgeon just amputated the patient’s foot!

In deep frustration, Dr. Riordan decided that the Clinic needed its own chamber. Thanks to Neil’s knowledge and experience in deep sea diving, he was able to procure the chamber we use today. Neil set up the chamber, the treatment protocol, and spearheaded the overall development of Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy as a clinical service here.

Let’s take a quick tour of the Hyperbaric Chamber room that is located on the lower level of the Riordan Clinic.

Many people have said that the hyperbaric chamber looks like a small submarine. It is a hard shelled pressure vessel made of steel and aluminum with view ports (windows) made of acrylic. The chamber has a human entry hatch, an airtight door to the hatch, and a gurney to lie on so that the patient can comfortably enter and exit the chamber. The patient is attended by a certified Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy HBOT) technician who never leaves the patient during the whole treatment process. What would a patient experience?

First, our technician would have the patient put on special cotton scrubs, because no metal objects are allowed for safety reasons. The technician would teach the patient how to “clear” their ears as the dive proceeds. This is no different than going up in a plane, where a person has to chew gum or swallow several times in order for the air pressure to equalize behind their ear drums.

Next, the patient lays on a gurney and the technician slides the patient into place inside the chamber. Once the hatch closes, the quiet is all encompassing. The technician is visible through the view port. Our two-way intercom allows the technician to stay in constant communication with the patient. The patient is then instructed to put on an oxygen mask and the technician will adjust it properly. One hundred percent pure O2 is flowing in. The “dive” is just about to begin!

Now special valves are opened to let in pressured air. Normal room air is (at sea level) about 15 pounds per square inch. This is called “one atmosphere absolute.” We abbreviate that as 1 ATA.

Most hyperbaric oxygen treatments take you down to 2 ATA or about 30 pounds per square inch. That’s about the same amount of pressure as in the tires of a car. The patient is reminded to swallow. Once the patient does, the air pressure equalizes and they can hear better. (Some patients with chronic ear congestion require special coaching in order to comfortably reach a depth of 2 ATA.)

In addition to watching the technician, there’s another port that will allow him/her to watch a movie. Or the patient can always take a nap to allow time to pass quickly.

Once the patient’s time is up, the “ascent” to the surface pressure of 1 ATA begins. It takes about 10 minutes to slowly and safely return to 1 ATA, all the while the patient continues to swallow to clear their ears!

What benefits can a patient expect to gain from a HBOT experience?

The increased air pressure, combined with an increase in oxygen to 100 percent, forces oxygen to dissolve in the liquid part of a person’s blood.

This “hyper-oxygenated” blood is delivered to all of the body’s cells, tissues, and fluids at up to 10 times over the normal concentration! This is high enough to sustain life with no blood at all!

Let’s do the calculation: Room air is 20% oxygen.  So 100% oxygen is an increase of 5 times. Then if this is done in 2 ATA (which is double the air pressure) this DOUBLES the effect of the 100% oxygen. The net result is that the body experiences a 10-fold increase in oxygen to the cells! Wow!

Here are just some of the many amazing benefits that Hyperbaric Oxygen Chamber Therapy has been shown to provide:

• Greatly increased oxygen concentration in all body tissues, even with reduced or blocked blood flow.
• Stimulation of the growth of new blood vessels to locations with reduced circulation, improving blood flow to areas with arterial blockage (such as after a stroke or a head injury.)
• Rebound arterial dilation, resulting in an increased blood vessel diameter greater than when therapy began, improving blood flow to compromised organs.
• An adaptive increase in superoxide dismutase (SOD), one of the body’s principal, internally produced antioxidants and free radical scavengers.
• Greatly enhanced white blood cell action, thus allowing your immune system to eliminate stubborn chronic infections.

• Stimulation of the release of adult stem cells that promote tissue regeneration and healing.

The use of increased atmospheric pressure for medical therapy has intrigued many physicians and scientists for hundreds of years.

Though not new, HBOT has recently gained importance for treatment of chronic degenerative health problems related to atherosclerosis, stroke, peripheral vascular disease, diabetic ulcers, wound healing, cerebral palsy, brain injury, multiple sclerosis, macular degeneration, and many other disorders.

Wherever blood flow and oxygen delivery to vital organs is reduced, their functioning can be improved with HBOT.

When the brain is injured by stroke, cerebral palsy, or trauma, then HBOT may re-activate the stunned parts of the brain to restore function. Results can be dramatic. Patients with cerebral vascular disease commonly recover from complications of stroke more readily after HBOT.

This is also true for potentially gangrenous legs and feet caused by blocked circulation, and for slow healing diabetic ulcers. HBOT relieves pain, helps fight infection, and keeps threatened tissues alive.

These benefits do not happen in just one treatment. A series of treatments are required. The number depends upon the severity and duration of your condition. Insurance coverage is limited depending upon the diagnosis. Not all diagnoses are covered. Check with your doctor.

Take advantage of the benefits of HBOT today. Call for an appointment with a Riordan Clinic doctor today.