Hyperbaric Medicine

hyperbaric chamberWhat is hyperbaric oxygen therapy?

Hyperbaric oxygen (HBO2) therapy provides high-pressure oxygen in a pressurized cylinder, called a hyperbaric chamber. Breathing 100 percent pure oxygen increases the amount of oxygen in the blood to many times its normal level. Blood vessels deliver this "super" oxygenated blood to tissues throughout the body to help heal, fight off infection, decrease swelling, and aid in the growth of new blood vessels. These benefits cannot be achieved by breathing oxygen in a regular room.

GW Hyperbaric Medicine

The hyperbaric medicine staff is a specialized team of skilled physicians, nurses and technicians. Before starting your hyperbaric therapy, a physician and technician will meet with you to discuss your overall treatment plan and address any questions or concerns you may have.

HBO2 therapy lasts for about 2-5 hours, although your stay at the Center may be longer. The hyperbaric physician and your referring physician will determine the best treatment schedule for you. Most wound-healing plans require an average of 30 to 40 HBO2 therapies and, sometimes more. The greatest benefit is attained when hyperbaric therapy is given five days per week over an extended period of time.

Treatment is done on an outpatient basis and begins as soon as insurance, transportation and/or local housing issues have been resolved.

A Comfortable Treatment Environment

The spacious, advanced facility is designed to provide a comfortable, pleasant environment for patients. We use hyperbaric chambers that are spacious enough so a patient can comfortably lie down during treatment. Transparent, double-acrylic chamber walls allow technicians to closely monitor patients, as well as provide patients with a clear outward view. While inside these total-body chambers, patients can communicate with attending technicians via intercom, watch television and listen to music or nap.

Your Treatment Experience

There is always a technician to take care of you throughout your stay at the Center. You will need to change into a comfortable cotton gown, which we will provide for you. You may drink center-approved liquids (water) in an approved bottle inside the chamber. To receive the full benefits of the therapy, it is best to remain in the chamber during the entire length of your treatment.

Once you enter the hyperbaric chamber, you may notice that the chamber is noisy. The temperature inside the chamber will begin to rise as the air begins to circulate. This is temporary and will be adjusted to a comfortable level once the correct pressure is obtained, which will take about 10 minutes.

You also may feel fullness in your ears and they may crackle or pop, while the chamber is being pressurized. This is similar to the sensations you feel when you are flying and it is normal. You will need to clear your ears often by:

  • Sipping water and/or swallowing
  • Yawning
  • Pinching your nose and blowing.

Please let us know if your ears hurt and we will adjust the air pressure to make your experience in the chamber as comfortable as possible.

Temporary Side Effects

Side effects rarely occur with HBO2 therapy, but some patients develop temporary changes in eyesight after several weeks of treatment. They may become nearsighted and need to adjust their eyeglass prescriptions. If your prescription changes during treatment, do not discard your old corrective lenses, as your eyesight will return to normal a few months after treatment.

There is an extremely rare chance that oxygen therapy will cause nausea or seizures. These side effects stop immediately when oxygen is replaced by air and cause no permanent problems. It almost never occurs in patients, except for those with high fevers; therefore we will take your temperature each day before treatment.

What Conditions Can Be Treated?

HBO2 therapy was first used primarily to treat divers who had decompression sickness, also known as "the bends." Today, it is used also to treat carbon monoxide poisoning and as part of treatment for a number of medical and surgical conditions. For example, HBO2 therapy can play an important role in the treatment of diabetic wounds, and may be part of a treatment plan that includes surgically removing dead tissue from a wound, taking antibiotics, undergoing physical therapy and managing diet.

Patients with the following conditions may benefit from HBO2 therapy:

  • Some nonhealing diabetic wounds
  • Radiation necrosis (radiation damage from cancer treatments)
  • Necrotizing infections
  • Decompression illness (the "bends")
  • Carbon monoxide poisoning
  • Air embolism
  • Reconstructive surgery
  • Gas gangrene
  • Crush injuries
  • Chronic refractory osteomyelitis (bone infections)

How to Prepare for Treatment

  • Do not drink alcohol for eight hours before treatment.
  • Always eat a balanced, full meal before treatment, especially if you are diabetic.
  • Absolutely nothing can be taken into the chamber, including hard contact lenses and hearing aids.
  • Valuables are best left at home or given to your technician to lock away.
  • Smoking and the use of tobacco are strongly discouraged because it may prevent you from fully benefiting from the treatment.
  • Use the restroom prior to treatment to avoid interruption of therapy. However, a bedpan or urinal can be provided, if needed.

What to Tell Us

Please let us know if you:

  • Are taking any medications or if there have been any changes in your medications
  • Have a cold, sinus issues or don't feel well, as this may affect your ability to clear your ears
  • Are wearing a medication patch
  • Have a toothache or a temporary filling
  • Are, or may be, pregnant
  • Have a history of epilepsy
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GW Wound Care and Hyperbaric Treatment Center
Lobby Level
900 23rd Street, NW
Washington, DC 20037

Phone: 202-715-5302
Fax: 202-15-4085

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Medicare, Medicaid, Workers Compensation and most other third-party carriers reimburse the cost of hyperbaric oxygen therapy for the conditions listed here.

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The George Washington University Hospital is owned and operated by a subsidiary of Universal Health Services, Inc.(UHS), a King of Prussia, PA-based company, that is one of the largest healthcare management companies in the nation.          

The George Washington University Hospital

900 23rd Street, NW
Washington, DC 20037

© 2015 The George Washington University Hospital. All rights reserved.

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