How Breathing Pure Oxygen Can Heal Tough Wounds: Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy

Finding better health after non-healing diabetic foot wound

What would it be like to breathe in 100% oxygen? For people with chronic, non-healing wounds, this therapy is effective, painless and gentle. Patients may spend two hours a day for a given time in a large, clear, tube-like chamber. They can relax or watch TV in this specially equipped, pressurized room as they breathe pure oxygen. 

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Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT) is the most progressive treatment option for wounds that won’t heal. During the treatment, the oxygen level in the patient’s blood increases, which helps to reduce swelling, control infection, and stimulate growth of new blood vessels. All of this allows stubborn wounds to heal.

This oxygen therapy can be used to treat diabetic and ulcerative wounds, compromised skin grafts, radiation therapy injuries and chronic bone infections. For Robert Lenz, 73, the treatment allowed his diabetic foot ulcer to heal after a string of related health challenges.

Prior to receiving HBOT, he suffered from two strokes within a year of one another, and he had dealt with diabetes for 20 years. His challenges with managing medications and maintaining a healthy diet resulted in further problems.

Mr. Lenz also has a drop foot deformity, which makes it difficult for him to raise his foot. That limitation, combined with his diabetes, resulted in the development of a sore on his left foot. During his stroke rehabilitation therapy, a home healthcare professional examined the sore and recommended that Dr. Lenz see a podiatrist.

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A diagnosis at last

Mr. Lenz underwent a comprehensive health and wound assessment, including vascular studies of his lower extremities to measure circulation and blood flow. He was diagnosed with a diabetic foot ulcer.

Diabetic foot ulcers, which can result from uncontrolled diabetes, can begin with a loss of feeling in an extremity. This numbness, which doctors call peripheral neuropathy, is one on the major causes of foot ulcers. Statistics show that 15% of people with diabetes will develop a foot ulcer in their lifetime. (However, researchers have found that foot ulcers can be prevented).

To help relieve pressure on his foot ulcer, Mr. Lenz began wearing a customized brace. He also had procedures to remove damaged tissue. Then, a decline in health led to him being admitted to the hospital. An MRI test showed he had a bone infection.

“We needed to prevent the wound from worsening to avoid a possible limb or life-threatening condition,” says William Scott, DPM, a podiatrist at the Lutheran Hospital Wound Healing Center.

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“As a result, Mr. Lenz underwent surgery to remove his fifth [little] toe and part of the bone underneath.”

Painless hyperbaric oxygen treatment

Following surgery, Mr. Lenz had weekly appointments with Dr. Scott, and he began hyperbaric oxygen therapy. While in the chamber, he would lay down on a reclining bed surrounded by pure oxygen at higher-than-normal atmospheric pressure. HBO treatment, which involves breathing in an atmosphere of 100% oxygen, is a painless, proven way to help the body heal wounds.

After a series of treatments, Mr. Lenz’s foot was fully healed, and overall he says that HBO therapy was “relaxing.” He would often nap during these sessions and his wound finally resolved.

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