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Hyperbaric Therapy March 7, 2009

Posted by Chris Sullivan in Miscellany.
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I just noticed a news article on a hyperbaric chamber being used to save a man’s injured leg in Boston. It reminded me of when I had a biopsy on a benign mole a few days before a diving trip to the St. Lawrence River. Before they did it I asked the doctor if there was any issue with diving with the stitches in place. She replied that it would be no problem, as long as I changed the dressing after diving, and that wounds were often treated with hyperbaric therapy.

Not long after, I found at why that was the case. All gases, including Oxygen, are carried around the bloodstream in solution, but Oxygen can also get around by binding with haemoglobin in the red blood corpuscles. When the tissues of the body consume Oxygen in the bloodstream, lowering the dissolved Oxygen content, the haemoglobin releases more Oxygen, supplying the cells. At the extremes of the circulatory system the capillaries are just wide enough to admit one red blood cell at a time.

Where there is an injury, and widespread damage to the capillaries, the red blood cells may not be able to get to where they’re needed, but the blood plasma can. By raising the partial pressure of Oxygen high enough in the hyperbaric chamber, the dissolved Oxygen content can approach the same levels as are normally supplied by the haemoglobin, providing much needed Oxygen to the tissues.

Carbon Monoxide can bind with haemoglobin more easily than Oxygen can, interfering with the delivery of Oxygen to the body. Hyperbaric treatment can deliver sufficient Oxygen to survive directly through the bloodstream, bypassing the red blood cells, keeping the patient alive until the CO is purged from the system.

I doubt my Scuba diving weekend helped heal my wound faster, but I was happy to find out why hyperbaric Oxygen is a favoured treatment for serious wounds.

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