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Hyperbaric Chamber

Overview :

At normal atmospheric pressure, oxygen binds with a molecule in red blood cells called hemoglobin. The oxygen is carried through the body to tissues where it is needed as the blood circulates. Under normal conditions, almost all (about 97%) of the available hemoglobin carries oxygen. Increasing the atmospheric pressure does little to increase the oxygen-carrying capacity of the blood. However, under normal conditions, only a small amount of oxygen is dissolved in the fluid that carries the red blood cells (blood plasma). Increasing the atmospheric pressure to two to three times normal and breathing 100% oxygen forces more oxygen to dissolve into the blood plasma. In this way, hyperbaric chambers increase the amount of oxygen circulating in the body. This can promote healing in areas that are not receiving adequate oxygen. The extra oxygen can also help to cure certain infections caused by anerobic bacteria that can live only in the absence of oxygen.

There are two types of hyperbaric chambers—monoplace and multiplace. Monoplace chambers accommodate a single person. The patient enters the chamber, then it is closed and the pressure is increased. The advantages of a monoplace chamber are that the patient does not have to wear a mask or a hood to receive the oxygen and the treatment regimen is designed specifically for each individual. The major disadvantages are that the patient is inaccessible to the staff during treatment should an emergency arise, and the pure oxygen atmosphere creates an increased fire hazard. In multiplace chambers, several patients use the same chamber simultaneously. Each person is given oxygen through a face mask or hood, but all patients receive the same treatment. A staff member remains in the chamber throughout the procedure.

Hyperbaric chambers can be associated with hospitals, but are increasingly part of free-standing clinics. Insurance may cover the cost of treatment for approved indications such as carbon monoxide poisoning, but may reject payment for uses that are considered experimental or controversial. The American Board of Medical Specialists certifies physician competency in the undersea medicine, including the use of hyperbaric chambers. The Baromedical Nurses Association offers three levels of certification for hyperbaric nurses, and the National Board of Hyperbaric Medicine Technology certifies hyperbaric technicians. Individuals considering hyperbaric therapy should seek facilities run by health care providers credentialed by these organizations.

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