Phelps Offers Hyperbaric Therapy, Largest Chamber in the Northeastern United States

The Hyperbaric Medicine Center at Phelps Memorial Hosptial Center, which opened last month, provides Hyperbaric Oxygen (HBO) Therapy, a medical treatment during which patients breathe pure oxygen (at up to 15 times the normal level) while sitting inside a pressurized chamber.

Seating 12 people, the hyperbaric chamber at Phelps is the largest in the northeastern United States.

Owen O’Neill, MD, a specialist in hyperbaric medicine and the Center’s Medical Director, prescribes individualized treatment plans for patients.

The term "hyperbaric chamber" may bring to mind scuba divers suffering from "the bends" (decompression sickness), but that is just one condition that can be treated by Hyperbaric Oxygen (HBO) therapy. Other conditions treated include non-healing wounds, tissue injury from radiation therapy, compromised skin grafts, compromised amputation flaps, carbon monoxide poisoning, cyanide poisoning, and bone infections (chronic osteomyelitis). Research is underway for use of HBO therapy to treat many other conditions, including post-traumatic brain injury, stroke, and cerebral palsy.

Those undergoing HBO Therapy receive 100% oxygen in a pressurized environment, which increases the amount of oxygen in the blood and helps new blood vessels grow, delivering more oxygen to the body’s tissues and organs. Typically, the pressure in the chamber is 2 1/2 times normal atmospheric pressure. Alone and in combination with standard treatment protocols, HBO Therapy contributes to optimal outcomes for patients.

Like other medical procedures, determining if a patient is a candidate for HBO Therapy requires careful analysis, discussions regarding alternative treatments, and an explanation of the risks and benefits. Similar to other specialists, the hyperbaric physician communicates with the patient’s primary care physician throughout the treatment period.

Benefits of HBO Therapy are improved oxygenation of wounds or damaged tissue — which promotes the healing process, and the activation of white blood cells to fight infection and enhance the benefits of some antibiotics.

Following treatments, patients often report positive effects, such as a decrease in pain or improved sleeping patterns.

Patients receive one treatment per day, five days per week, for several weeks as an outpatient. The exact number of treatments depends on the diagnosis and/or rate of recovery. HBO treatments usually last about 90 minutes, during which patients are seated in a comfortable chair and breathe oxygen throughout the treatment. It is common for patients to experience a temporary fullness or "popping" in the ears because of the pressure that is similar to the type of pressure that is experienced on an airplane during take off and landing, and is easily relieved by yawning and swallowing.

The "chamber" is like a first class airline cabin with spaciousness that provides comfort even for the claustrophobic or obese. Patients can relax, read, watch TV, or listen to music during treatments.

A member of the Hyperbaric Center team always remains in the chamber with patients during treatments, and the hyperbaric physician is always present during treatments. HBO Therapy treatment is covered by many insurance companies. For further information, call (914) 366-3690.

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About the Author: Mary Sernatinger