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Kalispell Regional Medical Center

Hyperbaric Medicine

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is a medical treatment in which the patient breathes 100 percent oxygen while inside a hyperbaric chamber under pressure. The treatment can be helpful for non-healing wounds, osteomyelitis that doesn't respond to standard treatment, problem surgical wounds, skin grafts and flaps that may be in trouble. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is also helpful with patients who have complications from radiation therapy.

How does hyperbaric oxygen therapy work?

Hyperbaric oxygen increases the amount of oxygen by 10 to 20 times the normal amount you would breathe in the air. Oxygen under pressure actually dissolves in your blood stream, so it is carried more effectively.

This can benefit you by:
  • Increasing oxygen to wound tissue
  • Forming new blood vessels
  • Reducing swelling
  • Assisting in fighting infection

Treatment Goals

In about 80 percent of cases, significant healing is seen. Not every patient will respond well to treatments. If improvements are not seen within 15-20 treatments, the chances of success are less.

Usually after about 20-30 treatments when there is good response, hyperbaric therapy may be stopped. Your body has been given the kick-start it needs to help you finish healing on your own.

For radiation and osteomyelitis, 30-40 treatments may be required. It is very important for you to come to all of your treatments. Treatments are given daily Monday through Friday. Each treatment takes approximately two and a half hours, including changing your clothes. This treatment plan requires a serious time commitment on your part; however, the treatment will not be effective if you miss several treatments.

Throughout your treatment, it is important for you to remain in contact with your primary physician. Our physicians are fully licensed, but their specialty is in hyperbaric medicine and wound care. For problems not related to your wound care, your primary physician must remain your main source of care. Our physicians will keep your primary physician updated on our progress with your care.

The Hyperbaric Chamber

The hyperbaric chamber is designed for one person to be treated at a time. During treatment the chamber will have oxygen added to it to increase the pressure to twice that at sea level. This is the same pressure a scuba diver will feel at 33-66 feet under the surface of the ocean. This is why we refer to a treatment as a "dive."

The chamber is clear so you will be able to see out of it. The chamber operator will communicate with you through an intercom system. You will notice some air noise during your treatment. This is a normal part of the chamber function.

Your Treatment

Please note the following:
  • You should not use any tobacco products while being treated with hyperbaric oxygen. Smoking prevents full oxygen use by the blood and decreases the size of your blood vessels.
  • Keep the physician updated on your current medications.
  • If you become ill (cold, sinus, diarrhea, nausea, swollen feet, problems breathing, chest pain, low blood sugar, etc.), please let the physician know.
  • If you are diabetic, we will check your blood sugar at the beginning and end of the treatment, as hyperbaric oxygen therapy can cause your blood sugar to become lower. Your blood sugar should be above 120 before entering the chamber.
  • You may take some beverages into the chamber with you in our approved containers.
  • Hyperbaric treatments are painless. Your treatment will take approximately two hours.
  • At the beginning and end of the treatment, you will feel a mild pressure in your ears. This happens while the chamber is compressing and decompressing. The feeling is like flying in an airplane or when you drive into the mountains. Our staff will work with you to learn ways to help your ears to pop. If you have any problems popping your ears or have any pain in your ears, let the staff know immediately. We will slow down and work with you to get you through your treatment. In rare cases, tubes may need to be placed in your ears to help.
  • If you need to cancel your treatment, let us know as soon as possible.

Safety Precautions

  • No cigarettes, matches or lighters are allowed in the chamber.
  • Lotions, perfumes, hair spray, cosmetics, deodorants, hair weaves and wigs/hair pieces should not be worn. We ask that you bathe prior to coming for your treatment to ensure that your body is clean of these products. You may apply them when you return home.
  • No outside street clothing or shoes are allowed in the chamber. We will provide clothing for you to wear in the chamber.
  • No watches, partial dentures, hard contact lenses, hearing aids or any other items with external batteries are allowed in the chamber.
  • No paper products are allowed in the chamber.
  • No hand warmers or warming patches are allowed in the chamber.
  • Due to limited space, visitors will not be able to stay in the hyperbaric room during your treatment. They can wait in the waiting room or come back to pick you up when your treatment is finished. If you would like to bring a visitor for a tour, please arrange this with our staff.