How HBOT Works in the Body
Before we begin to explain how hyperbaric oxygen therapy works, it will help to familiarize yourself with some bodily processes and useful terms:
OXYGEN, BLOOD AND RESPIRATION
Typically, when a person breathes in, air enters the lungs and gets drawn into tiny air sacs called alveoli. These, together with the capillary blood vessels allow oxygen and carbon dioxide to exchange rapidly between the lungs and blood stream. Normally, only the hemoglobin in our red blood cells transports oxygen around our bodies and to tissues and organs. In fact, our hemoglobin is always saturated with around 98% oxygen. But red blood cells make up less than 45 percent of blood’s volume. Around 55 percent is made up of a clear, straw colored liquid called plasma that contains water, enzymes, salt, antibodies and other proteins. The plasma transports very little oxygen under normal conditions.
OXYGEN LEVELS & PRESSURE
Blood contains a mixture of gases, mainly oxygen. We measure gas pressures in millimeters of mercury, or mm Hg. PO2 (partial pressure of oxygen) tells us the amount of oxygen gas that’s dissolved in the blood and measures how well our lungs pull oxygen out of air into our bloodstream. Our cells require oxygen levels of 30 mm Hg to function normally. And whereas it’s possible for body cells to survive at 5 mm Hg, that’s not enough pressure for them to perform essential healing functions.
ATMOSPHERES ABSOLUTE (ATA)
Atmospheres absolute are how we measure atmospheric pressures as they relate to water depth. Sea level is 1 ATA and 33 feet under water would be 2 ATA, 66 feet would be 3 ATA, etc. At sea-level atmospheric pressure (1 ATA), 98 percent of oxygen is carried in the hemoglobin and red blood cells. About 2 percent is dissolved in the plasma.
THE HBOT CONNECTION
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy delivers 100 percent oxygen under increased atmospheric pressures. This pushes oxygen into the plasma that does not normally carry oxygen. Oxygen literally floods the bloodstream. HBOT can achieve PO2 values from 1,100 to 1,900 mm Hg. In addition, the increased ATAs in our hyperbaric oxygen chamber permit oxygen to spread beyond the blood capillaries and promote healing in oxygen-starved areas. That’s why HBOT so effectively treats ischemia, a condition usually due to a blocked artery that cuts off vital blood supply to a body organ.
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