Home Current Issue Previous Issues Published Ahead-of-Print Online Exclusives Collections Videos CE For Authors Journal Info
Skip Navigation LinksHome > Blogs > HBO Nuggets of the Week
HBO Nuggets of the Week
A forum to discuss interesting aspects of hyperbaric medicine.
Wednesday, February 26, 2014
One of the approved uses of hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) is for the treatment of chronic refractory osteomyelitis. This is a chronic condition of infection involving the cortex and medullary portions of the bone. For a patient to be considered a candidate for HBOT, he or she must have failed a course of standard therapy that includes debridement and a course of antibiotics. There is no exact point where one can differentiate between acute and chronic osteomyelitis, however, the accepted guidelines by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services for treatment is generally 3 months. One of the more common places that we encounter osteomyelitis is in diabetic patients with foot ulcers that penetrate to the bone or with a history of prior extremity trauma. The use of HBOT for osteomyelitis involving the long bones has decreased with the advent of improved surgical techniques for fracture repair and the use of plastic surgical flaps. Healing can be compromised by the interruption of blood supply to the bone either by infection, trauma, or repetitive injury. Physical examination may demonstrate exposed bone, odor, drainage, and tenderness. Although X-rays may be helpful, magnetic resonance imaging has emerged as the diagnostic tool of choice. Bone biopsy may provide pathologic diagnosis and also provide deep wound culture. The mechanism of action of HBOT is similar to what has been discussed here before: enhancement of angiogenesis, increased leukocyte killing and improved bone healing through increased fibroblastic activity, and deposition of collagen with subsequent osteoblastic bone deposition. The typical course of therapy for the treatment of chronic refractory osteomyelitis is 2.0-2.5 ATA, 30 dives for 90 minutes each, but the number of treatments may increase based on the severity of the disease.

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Referring a wound care patient for hyperbaric oxygen therapy requires a commitment of time.  Typically, the patient would require 20 to 40 treatments or “dives,” with 30 being the average amount of treatments. The patient must arrive before the treatment can start to have their vital signs taken and their glucose checked if they are diabetic and also be screened for safety.  Contraband cannot be allowed in the chamber. Recall that 3 things are required for a fire: fuel, ignition source, and an accelerant. For example, street clothes, hand warmers, cell phones, and hairspray are not permitted in the chamber.

Pressurization, or descent, usually takes about 10 minutes. After arrival at the required depth, the standard treatment time is 90 minutes. The patient must then ascend, or depressurize, which again takes about 10 minutes.  Total time in the hyperbaric chamber (monoplace) is usually 110 minutes.  Clearly, the amount of time needed exceeds 2 hours.  However, for many, the benefits of having a wound healed and closing the door to infection far outweigh any time inconvenience.

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is very well tolerated. The patient lies comfortably while breathing 100% oxygen typically at 2.0 ATA (atmospheres absolute). The most common complication that we discussed previously is barotrauma, particularly to the tympanic membranes. However, another area of risk, although extremely low, is CNS oxygen toxicity.

Oxygen is a toxic gas if breathed at high concentrations for prolonged periods of times. Paul Bert, a 19th century French zoologist and physiologist is credited with the description. The risk for CNS oxygen toxicity rises if breathing 100% oxygen at pressures greater than 3.0 ATA or the equivalent of 99 feet of seawater. There may be little warning before convulsions occur.  The risk associated with HBOT is approximately 0.01% if patients are screened for risk. Typically for our wound patients, risks would include fever or hyperthyroidism although both are not absolute contraindications for HBOT.

Another option to consider is that if a wound patient is thought to be at high risk for CNS oxygen toxicity they can be provided with periods of normoxia, or, air breaks. In a monoplace chamber, the patient would be provided with a mask connected to a tank of medical air located outside the chamber.  The patient would breathe air for 5 minutes every half hour or a total of 10 minutes. Using the typical parameters for treating wound patients, a 90 minute ‘dive’ at, 2.0 ATA, CNS oxygen toxicity is very rare.

Monday, October 21, 2013

One of the more common uses of hyperbaric oxygen therapy is in the treatment of diabetic foot ulcers (DFUs). Diabetic foot ulcers are one of the feared complications of diabetes. They occur in about 15% of persons with diabetes, and an article by Brem and Tomic-Canic1 stated that approximately 84% of lower extremity amputations are preceded by them.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services requirements for treatment of DFUs include the following 3 criteria:

Patient has type 1 or type 2 diabetes and has a lower extremity wound that is a result of having diabetes

Patient has a wound classified as Wagner grade III or higher

Patient has failed an adequate course of standard wound therapy for at least 30 days (including debridement, revascularization if indicated, offloading, and so on)

The Wagner’s classification of diabetic foot ulcers is as follows. Although not a perfect grading system (doesn’t take into account vascular status or superficial ulcers), it is the grading system that is used to determine candidacy for HBOT at the present time:

Grade      Lesion

 0              No open lesions: may have deformity or cellulitis

 1             Superficial ulcer

 2             Deep ulcer to tendon or joint capsule

 3             Deep ulcer with abscess, osteomyelitis, or joint sepsis

 4             Local gangrene – forefoot or heel

 5             Gangrene of entire foot

Treatment is typically 30 dives at 2.0 ATA and if improvement is shown, the number of dives may be increased.


1. Brem H, Tomic-Canic M. Cellular and molecular basis of wound healing in diabetes. J Clin Invest 2007;117:1219-22.


Wednesday, September 04, 2013

One of the indications for hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) as approved by the Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy Committee is radiation soft tissue injury. Recently, there have been increasing reports of patients benefiting from HBOT that have radiation cystitis and/or radiation proctitis. Radiation treatment can cause radiation vasculitis, resulting in vascular destruction and fibrosis of tissue.  There are 3 proposed mechanisms that may result in the improvement that these patients are seeing:

1.     stimulation of angiogenesis, which, in turn, increases tissue oxygenation

2.     reduction in fibrosis

3.     mobilization and increases in stems cells within the radiated tissue.

In our own clinic, we evaluated a woman who had received radiation therapy for cervical cancer. She was referred by her gynecologist, seeking some sort of relief for her patient. At initial presentation, she was complaining of pain, discharge, and frequent bleeding from the vagina. She was so uncomfortable and exhausted from the symptoms that she was staying at home and virtually unable to go outside. She was started on HBOT, 2.0 ATA for 90 minutes and after about 20 dives she began to notice improvement. Her drainage decreased, the bleeding resolved, her energy rebounded, and she has resumed her walks in the park, which she loves so much.

Some indications for HBOT certainly could benefit from more randomized controlled studies; however, the use of HBOT for improving the quality of life in those patients suffering from radiation soft tissue injury to the pelvis shows promise.


About the Author

Frank L. Ross, MD, FACS
Frank L. Ross, MD, FACS, is Associate Director of the Helen S. and Martin L. Kimmel Hyperbaric and Advanced Wound Healing Center at NYU Langone Medical Center and an Assistant Professor of Surgery at NYU School of Medicine. He is board certified in General Surgery and Undersea and Hyperbaric Medicine. He is an associate member of the American Professional Wound Care Association, American College of Hyperbaric Medicine, and Undersea and Hyperbaric Medical Society. He is also an advanced open water diver with extensive diving experience.

Blogs Archive