Avera Medical Minute: How hyperbaric medicine can help patients with serious wounds

Published: Aug. 17, 2023 at 5:36 PM CDT
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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (Dakota News Now) - A longstanding treatment is receiving new interest from patients who have stubborn wounds that just won’t heal.

Doctor Christopher Auvenshine spoke with Dakota News Now about the benefits of hyperbaric medicine.

“Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is the application of oxygen as a medication in a high-pressure environment,” said Dr. Auvenshine.

Dr. Auvenshine explained the process and how the treatment promotes healing.

“We take patients and place them in our hyperbaric chamber,” said Dr. Auvenshine. “We have them breathe 100 percent oxygen, and then we will pressurize the chamber to two or two and a half atmospheres of pressure. If you consider the surface of the earth to be one atmosphere of pressure — life as we know it — two or two and a half atmospheres of pressure would be the equivalent of being a scuba diver diving at 22 to almost 50 feet under water. Then we have them breathe 100 percent oxygen for 90 minutes while they’re in the chamber. That high dose of oxygen stimulates a number of different mechanisms in the body to promote healing. First it would be increasing the body’s ability to make new blood vessels. Help the body stimulate or increase the production of collagen, and then we also help to decrease inflammation.”

Dr. Auvenshine spoke about how claustrophobia is addressed.

“We do have patients that suffer from claustrophobia, and we can help to give them an anti-anxiety medication to alleviate some of the anxiety that comes with that feeling,” said Dr. Auvenshine. “The chamber itself is a large plexiglass tube. It has two steel caps on the end — one of which is a door that will be open and closed to allow the patient to be entered and exit. The chamber is see-through, and at the foot of the chamber, there is a television, so many patients will elect to watch a movie or a television program of their choice.”

There are some side effects to keep in mind.

“Most patients will feel the effect of the pressure on their eardrums, just as if you are landing in an airplane, and you feel the pressure on your ears,” said Dr. Auvenshine. “Patients will feel that pressure when the pressure is increasing iniside the chamber, so we teach them how to equalize that pressure so that they can be comfortable. Patients who have cataracts, we tend to make those cataracts worse if they are receiving a large number of treatments. Also, patients can experience a short duration of decreased vision at a distance. That’s not permanent. Once the treatments are stopped or they have completed their hyperbaric treatment, their vision will come back to normal.”

For more information on hyperbaric medicine, visit avera.org/medicalminute.