Oxygen therapy delivered in a hyperbaric chamber helps a variety of medical conditions. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy uses a special chamber to allow a person to get high levels of oxygen in his or her blood. The delivery of 100 percent oxygen under pressure stimulates the growth of new blood vessels (angiogenesis). This helps the blood to carry more oxygen to the organs and tissues in the body, which helps wounds — particularly infected wounds — to heal more readily. Froedtert Hospital has two hyperbaric chambers.

Our hyperbaric medicine is unique in that it is led by a team of neurologists who focus on the neurological applications of hyperbaric oxygen therapy. The hyperbaric medicine team at Froedtert Hospital performs 500 – 1,000 hyperbaric oxygen treatments each year to aid healing for many types of conditions.

Conditions that may benefit from hyperbaric oxygen include:

  • Clostridial gas gangrene, a serious wound infection resulting from a “dirty” wound
  • Crush injuries
  • Compartment syndrome (the compression of nerves and blood vessels leading to impaired blood flow and muscle and nerve damage)
  • Soft tissue infections, such as fasciitis (inflammation of the lining tissue under the skin)
  • Osteomyelitis (bone infection)
  • Radiation tissue damage
  • Skin grafts and flaps
  • Reattached (previously severed) body parts

Hyperbaric oxygen is also used to treat thermal burns, intracranial abscesses and various diving injuries such as air or gas embolism and decompression sickness. It may also be used to treat people who have carbon monoxide poisoning and smoke inhalation; the pressurized oxygen helps to reduce the level of carbon monoxide in the body.

Radiation-Induced Cerebral Necrosis

Radiation-induced cerebral necrosis (RIN), the accidental death of brain cells, is a serious complication of the treatment of brain tumors. Patients with RIN may also benefit from hyperbaric oxygen therapy. The neurological signs and symptoms of RIN are often progressive and can be difficult to distinguish from tumor recurrence. 

The most common symptoms involve cognitive changes, including short-term memory loss, poor concentration, personality changes and focal neurological abnormalities, such as hemiparesis (weakness on one side of the body) and aphasia (impairment of the ability to produce and/or comprehend language).

Hyperbaric Oxygen Treatments

A physician order and referral are required for hyperbaric chamber treatment. Each patient who is referred for treatment is evaluated to ensure he or she may benefit from hyperbaric oxygen. If the patient is considered a good candidate, he or she will be oriented to the hyperbaric chamber before treatment begins. The hyperbaric oxygen treatments are used to treat both inpatients and outpatients.

Each treatment lasts about one and three-quarter hours. The chamber, which is sealed during treatment, has clear walls, allowing patients to see all around them. A respiratory therapist is always with patients during treatment. Patients may view movies or listen to music during the treatment, and they talk to the respiratory therapist though a speaker inside the chamber.

Some patients require only a few treatments, while others may need up to 30 treatments depending on the type of condition they have. There is no pain to the affected area during the hyperbaric oxygen treatment.

As the oxygen is pumped into the chamber, patients usually feel a little pressure on their body, particularly around their ears. This is similar to the pressure some people notice in an airplane. Taking an over-the-counter decongestant in advance may help with the ear pressure.

Patients may change positions (e.g., from back to side) during treatment. Some patients may wish to have mild sedation to help them relax. This can be prescribed by one of the program physicians. Patients may also take a water bottle in the chamber.

Treatments are provided Monday through Friday. Patients may not wear any metal objects (except for eyeglasses) or electrical objects during treatment.

More to Explore