What is a hyperbaric chamber?
Wanda Poradowska-Jeszke: It is a chamber where you can compress the air to 1.5 or even 3 atmospheres. This makes it possible to treat patients at higher pressure than ordinary atmospheric pressure.
Does treatment in such conditions bring better effects?
If we administer pure oxygen, the body receives more oxygen than in normal conditions. At higher pressure, oxygen reaches even those areas that are normally difficult to access.
If there are disturbances in capillary circulation, that is, the smallest vessels, the solubility of 100 per cent oxygen in blood serum at higher pressure is even 15 times (!) higher. It is a sufficient amount for our cells to deliver this oxygen to areas inaccessible to blood cells.
Who can benefit from treatment in a hyperbaric chamber?
Mainly diabetics suffering from vascular disturbances involving the diabetic feet or people with crush injuries. We also treat burnt patients when they come to us in the first burn phase. Oxygen delivered under pressure reduces the swelling and the burnt area. When administered in this form, oxygen generally improves circulation. But we must remember that an excessive amount of oxygen affects the body, so oxygen must be administered in reasonable quantities – for example, we cannot keep a patient in the chamber for 24 hours.
You mentioned the diabetic foot. How specifically can a hyperbaric chamber help diabetics?
Circulation in the diabetic foot is imperfect, because the part of the leg covered by the inflammation process has a worse blood supply. But hyperbaric oxygen will flow to normally inaccessible areas through serum if circulation is maintained, even though vessels are very narrow. The amount of oxygen delivered in the hyperbaric chamber will be higher and the areas with a deficiency of oxygen become sufficiently oxygenated. We treat also divers suffering from the bends. The bends occur when a diver ascends too quickly and, as a result, air bubbles are released and block capillary vessels, which leads to the necrosis of local tissues, particularly the bone tissue, in the next few days.
There is a heating season now. We hear about carbon monoxide poisonings. In the hyperbaric chamber, you help – well, even save the lives of – victims of carbon monoxide poisonings…
A poisoned patient is put in the hyperbaric chamber so that carbon monoxide could be drained from his body more quickly.
Do you treat many carbon monoxide victims?
There are very many such cases in the heating season. I think that there may even more during this season – because of the lack of fuel, people are allowed to burn whatever they want, even poor-quality materials, in old tile stoves. In winter, we may have even five patients one day and none during the next week. But carbon monoxide poisonings occur also in summer – in many houses, people use gas stoves for heating water. Every patient, even the only one rescued after carbon monoxide poisoning is a success and a great value for us. This means a saved life!
Are hyperbaric chambers both for children and for adults?
They are available to everyone, regardless of age. The youngest patient we have received was a six-week-old newborn poisoned with carbon monoxide.
But there are certain contraindications for the use of the chamber. Who cannot use it?
For example, persons who have changes in lungs. Before entering the hyperbaric chamber, every patient has to undergo examinations: an X-ray test, an ECG test and a medical examination.
What about patients with cancers?
Only in urgent cases, can we compress an oncological patient. In normal conditions, this is not recommended. And when cancer is the most aggressive in the first stage of treatment, we cannot treat the patient in the chamber. Delivering oxygen in the chamber might accelerate the growth of cancer. So we tend to disqualify such patients.
Sudden hearing loss can also be treated in the chamber.
Yes, we treat hearing loss that is causeless or caused by a sudden noise. But a patient must come to us at a very early stage.
How does therapy in a hyperbaric chamber take place?
It lasts one hour and a half; patients enter the chamber and the first ten minutes are slow compression to working pressure, on the level of which 100 per cent oxygen will be administered. And patients start to breathe pure medical oxygen through a mask. There are three sessions with two five-minute breaks. Altogether, the patient receives pure oxygen for 60 minutes in the chamber where the pressure is higher than normal by 1.5 atmospheres.
Is one visit enough?
No, a few visits are necessary. For example, a diabetic needs at least 30 such visits. There are intervals – for example, a patient can come five times a week and then have two days of break.