What is hyperbaric oxygen therapy?
HBOT is a medical treatment in which a patient breathes one hundred percent oxygen in a pressurized chamber.
That sounds a little bit Star Trekky to me.
What does the pressurized chamber look like?
The one in the office I visited looks like a mini submarine. Different models exist, however. Some are transparent, human-sized tubes that remind me of what my guinea pig used to play around in as a kid. Some are so large that multiple people can kick back and get their oxygen fix together. Portable models can be found online too.
The chamber in which I receive my therapy has a small yoga-type mat, providing a little squish for my tush. I have enough room to sit up and move around. I’m able to change positions frequently.
So what exactly is a “pressurized chamber”?
A “pressurized chamber” is a place in which atmospheric pressure is increased.
I was not a good physics student. What is atmospheric pressure again?
National Geographic provides a great explanation: “The air around you has weight, and it presses against everything it touches. That pressure is called atmospheric pressure, or air pressure. It is the force exerted on a surface by the air above it as gravity pulls it to Earth.”
All the air above us right now is pressing down on us due to gravity. This pressure contributes to pushing air into our lungs and squeezing oxygen out into our bloodstream. When you climb a mountain, atmospheric pressure drops. Air is less dense the higher you go. In this situation, with a drop in pressure, less air is pushed into our lungs and less oxygen is squeezed into our bloodstream. This can result in that dizzy or nauseous feeling you get in high altitudes because your body is deprived of its normal oxygen level.
Okay, I think I get it. But, I thought you said that you are in a chamber with more pressure, not less.
You are right. Let’s flip this idea around now. What if you were in an area with higher atmospheric pressure than normal? You would get more oxygen, right? In this situation, a greater amount of oxygen would be pushed into your lungs, squeezed into your bloodstream and carried to your tissues.
And you just breathe air in the tank?
It’s not the regular air you breathe outside, comprised of only 21% oxygen. You actually breathe 100% oxygen in the tank. The purity of this oxygen combined with increased atmospheric pressure means you will be getting 10 times the regular amount of oxygen you breathe normally when you are in the chamber.
Do you use a mask in the tank to breathe the oxygen?
Some facilities use masks. My doctor’s office uses a real jazzy-looking hood. This is the model. Take a look: http://i.ytimg.com/vi/tfBDJIDtE9Q/maxresdefault.jpg
How do they get that on you? Is it uncomfortable?
When I went in the first time for a treatment they fit the hood to my head by cutting a hole in the rubber circular base, which feels a lot like a swim cap. They then squeezed the hole over my head. Once it was on, I looked at myself in the mirror (because I do this kind of stuff at the doctor). I decided it was a great look. Made me feel like an intergalactic explorer of sorts. We had to adjust my astronaut cap a few times because the rubber had a tight grip around my neck. It shouldn’t cut off circulation or feel extremely uncomfortable. Once it was fit correctly, it didn’t bother me at all.
The tubes in front are responsible for transporting air in and out of the hood. The oxygen comes into the hood from one plastic tube and the CO2—released upon exhalation—is carried out by the other. When the oxygen starts flowing the hood expands like a giant bubble.
I got it. You do all of this stuff to get a bunch of oxygen in your body. I’m still confused as to why this is used to treat Lyme disease?
This is an off-label use for hyperbaric oxygen therapy, but many Lyme patients have responded very positively to this form of treatment. The spirochete that causes Lyme disease is an anaerobic bacterium. This means that it cannot survive in an environment rich in oxygen. By increasing oxygen levels in your body, you will cause the bacteria to die. Additional benefits include repair of tissues damaged by the disease, and a boost to your immune functioning.
Sounds great. So you stopped your antibiotics right?
No. For me, this is a complimentary therapy. I make sure to continue my antibiotics and other medication as prescribed. Next week I will be receiving IV antibiotics right before I go into the hyperbaric oxygen chamber. This will help my tissues to absorb the medication.
Is the treatment expensive?
Yes. Your insurance may or may not cover it for you. Most facilities charge around 200$ per session out of pocket. In order for the treatment to be effective, you will need to do between 20 – 90 sessions. It really varies based on the patient. I gathered this information from various sources online (and the clinic where I receive my treatments).
That’s a lot of money. Do you think it’s going to be worth it for you?
I made the decision to try it based on the recovery stories I’ve read and listened to over the last year. Many individuals with Lyme attribute their remission to HBOT. I’m sure this isn’t the case for everyone, but I’m hopeful. Due to the fact that I received my diagnosis late in the game, have neurological symptoms and have at least one co-infection … my philosophy is to treat with all guns blazing. I’m comin’ in hot bacteria so watch your back.
Treatment for tick borne infection is expensive any way you slice it. My health, to me, is priceless. I’m going to treat and then worry about everything else later. I know that not everyone else can say that but I’m fortunate enough to have some support and I’ve only been in active treatment a little over six months (finances, I’m sure, look a lot different at six years).
Was the treatment uncomfortable for you?
I was incredibly nervous going into it. I’m a loony bird. I research everything to death, and then past death. I go through possible risks and then I imagine what my plan of attack might be if said risks were to actually occur. If you google HBOT you will read the risks. Your medical center will also make you sign your life away, but here’s the thing … I had a long chat with my doctor about all of the possible issues and what I took away from our conversation was that major issues from HBOT for Lyme are quite rare. She’s never had a patient that experienced any major medical issue as a result of the treatment.
In my clinic, they always check my ears before and after treatment to make sure they are okay with changes in pressure. Some people experience ear discomfort. If you are congested there are medications physicians can provide you in order to prevent ear pain. For me, my ears felt like I was sitting at the bottom of a pool in the deep end. I tried to move my jaw and pop my ears frequently, which helped. But overall, it didn’t really bother me that much. The nurse at my clinic changed the pressure in the chamber at a very slow rate, which allowed me to adjust smoothly.
My main issue was fear itself. In the tank you need to remain calm. I always get a little freaked in confined spaces. One time I had an MRI, and I remember having a panic attack even though I was listening to the Beach Boys (who panics while listening to Surfin’ Safari?). I found that meditative breathing followed by multiple games of Sudoku eased my anxiety tremendously. Once I got through my first session, I was much calmer. There was a small window in the chamber that the nurse looked through in order to communicate with me. We wrote notes back and forth to one another. She was so supportive.
After the treatments were over I had incredible exhaustion. Like can’t-keep-your- eyes-open exhaustion. I also experienced an increase in the feeling of vibration all over my body. I have yet to explain why. I will be going back to do more treatments consistently in the future, so I will update you when I get more data ; )
How long are you in the tank?
I’m in the tank about two hours. The first 30 minutes the tank’s pressure is increased. There’s an incredibly loud noise as gas flies into the chamber. Expect to be startled. I don’t have to wear the oxygen hood during this time. Once we reach the proper atmospheric pressure (usually between 2.5 – 3.0 ATMs depending on your clinic), I slide on my astronaut cap. I then hook both tubes to their outlets. I breathe pure oxygen in the inflated bubble for one full hour. Once I’m finished, I remove the hood and the nurse decreases the pressure over the course of another 30 minutes.
What do you do while you are in there?
I alternate between meditative breathing and Sudoku. Other activities you may want to try: reading a book, drawing or any form of paper-based entertainment. I’m not allowed to bring ipads or electronics in the chamber with me. Some centers do allow this though … depends where you go.
What if zombies attack the office staff while you are in the chamber? Are you stuck in there forever? I’ve heard it can be really dangerous if the pressure isn’t changed slowly … this is totally freaking me out right now.
If the zombiepocalpyse happens while you are in your treatment, do not be concerned. I take that back. Do be concerned, but not about being stuck in a pressurized chamber. There are controls within the chamber that medical professionals will show you how to operate in case of an emergency. You can let the air out yourself at a slow rate. Then you can face the zombies when you are at regular atmospheric pressure.