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What Is Oxygenation (And What Are Hyperbaric Chambers For)?

Main image courtesy of Sports Illustrated.

We all put our bodies through a lot. Whether it’s exercising, getting things done around the house, or doing a full day’s work, all that exertion can really start to take its toll physically. This is why taking the time to rest and recover is so crucial—it allows our muscles time to repair themselves and even get stronger.

But what if there was a way you could speed up the process of recovery and get back to feeling your best in a shorter amount of time? Well, oxygenation might just be what we’ve been waiting for when it comes to helping the body heal fast, so you can get back to feeling your best. Athletes and celebrities have been in the know for a while, so we thought it would be helpful to put together this guide to discuss:

  • What oxygenation is
  • What hyperbaric chambers are
  • Why athletes and celebrities use hyperbaric chambers (and if you should too)

Have You Heard About The Process Of Oxygenation?

Lung graphic.
Oxygenation can help restore the level of oxygen in your body to the correct amount. Image courtesy of Belluscura.

You may have not come across the term oxygenation before, but it’s a relatively simple concept. Oxygenation refers to the addition of oxygen to any system, which includes the human body. This is a process that is used frequently in the medical field to assist patients who may have a deficit of oxygen. This can be as simple as hooking up a patient to an oxygen tank or as elaborate as immersing a patient in a hyperbaric chamber that is then flooded with high concentrations of oxygen, known as hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT).

Oxygenation should not be confused with ventilation, which is the act of inhaling and exhaling normally. When you are inhaling, you are getting oxygen to your body, but it is the normal amount required for your brain and other systems to function properly. When oxygenation occurs, the oxygen level is much higher. This type of treatment can be used to treat illnesses that throw off the amount of oxygen that is found in the body, so that it can restore their levels to safe amounts.

Typically, having lower than normal blood oxygen levels is a warning sign that something is wrong, and this is referred to as hypoxia. You can measure the amount of oxygen in the blood with a device known as a pulse oximeter. It’s important to catch low blood oxygen levels quickly, as the reduction of those levels can have serious impacts on the major systems of the body. Lung disease is one of the common ways in which you might find yourself with less than optimal blood oxygen levels.

If you’re experiencing lower oxygen levels, you might have some of the following symptoms:

  • Confusion
  • Rapid heart beat
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sweating
  • Wheezing

In order to restore your oxygen levels, you’ll need to be evaluated by a physician, and they can determine if oxygenation is the right treatment for you.

How Does Oxygen Therapy Tie In With Hyperbaric Chambers?

Hyperbaric chamber.
Hyperbaric chambers allow patients to be fully immersed in increased levels of oxygen. Image courtesy of Healogics.

Now that you know a little more about oxygenation and what it is, we can now discuss how it is used. Hyperbaric oxygen treatment is the use of oxygen to treat a variety of other health issues beyond lung disease, including carbon monoxide poisoning, decompression sickness (the bends), and delayed radiation injury. However, did you know that oxygen treatment can also be used on infections, skin grafts, and gangrene? It’s not just our lungs that are sometimes starved for oxygen, but our tissues as well.

Hyperbaric oxygen treatment has also been proven to be successful at speeding up the healing process of stubborn wounds and infections, as it floods those areas with oxygen. This helps to heal and repair that tissue much faster than if left on its own.

Oxygen therapy such as this typically takes place in a hyperbaric chamber. You will usually see two types of these chambers. One is a monoplace chamber that resembles an MRI machine and is designed to hold one person. The patient will lay down in this chamber while it is slowly filled with oxygen.

The other kind of hyperbaric chamber is a multiplace chamber, which can accommodate two or more people who will receive the oxygen treatment through masks.

So how does hyperbaric oxygen treatment work?

1. Helps With Wound Healing.

As we mentioned earlier, wounds are able to heal much faster when oxygen therapy is used. Because wounds are traumatic, the surrounding tissue not only is damaged, but it becomes inflamed as well. This not only leads to oxygen starvation, but it can also promote tissue tissue death. In order to prevent this, oxygen therapy reduces swelling while the increased pressure in the hyperbaric chamber increases the amount of oxygen in the blood.

Hyperbaric chambers are also successful at preventing reperfusion injuries, which can be sustained after blood is reintroduced to tissues after they have been starved of oxygen. When in a hyperbaric chamber, the increase of oxygen to the body promotes healing among the damaged cells, allowing the body to recover.  

2. Strengthens The Immune System.

When the body is exposed to additional increased levels of oxygen, it can also help fight bacteria. This allows the immune system to better respond to threats that can cause infection. When the blood has more oxygen in it, there are more white blood cells available to repel infections and allow the body to heal.

3. Encourages Collagen Production.

Higher levels of oxygen present in hyperbaric chambers also increase the body’s production of collagen, new skin cells, and new blood vessels, which all speed up the process of healing.

Why Are Athletes And Celebrities Interested In Hyperbaric Chambers?

NFL football game.
Athletes are always looking for ways to help their bodies heal faster. Image courtesy of Journal and Courier.

So it seems that hyperbaric oxygen therapy is a great way to help bring patients’ oxygen levels to the correct amount. It’s also a helpful way to heal traumatic wounds that otherwise could descend into infection and tissue death. But did you also know hyperbaric chambers can be used as a method of prevention as well? That’s right, top athletes of all kinds of sports have been getting on board with hyperbaric oxygen treatments.

Athletes are very tough on their body’s and they ask their body’s to endure a lot. This is especially true with contact sports such as football or hockey.

There are three ways in which hyperbaric oxygen treatment can help athletes:

  • Injury prevention. One of the biggest issues athletes face are injuries. Using oxygen treatment can help keep the body at peak performance, which can lower the risk of injury.
  • Increase body optimization. Every athlete wants to be at their best, and this type of treatment may improve their physical performance.
  • Recovery. Perhaps the reason athletes (and others) are most interested in hyperbaric treatment is to aid in muscle recovery and reduce inflammation and swelling.

Because hyperbaric treatment can help maximize healing and reduce inflammation, celebrities have also started to extoll its virtues—stating it helps them relax, destress, and just feel better overall. That’s something we all could use, which is why you see many facilities now offering hyperbaric treatments.

If you feel you could benefit from spending time in a hyperbaric chamber, make sure to speak to your medical professional. Your body is very resilient, but sometimes even it may need a little extra help when it comes to optimizing the healing process.