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Medical Services

Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy

Hard-to-heal wounds demand advanced care. The Surgical and Wound Care Clinic at Barnes-Jewish Hospital specializes in treatment of patients with chronic wounds that won’t heal.

Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy is one of several advanced wound care methods provided at Barnes-Jewish Hospital. Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy can be used as a major treatment method or along with other procedures, such as revascularization.

What is Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy?

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) is a medical treatment in which a patient breathes 100% oxygen in a closed, pressurized chamber. 

What is the purpose of breathing oxygen under pressure?

Wounds are slow to heal when there is a lack of oxygen in the tissue around the wound. Breathing 100% oxygen under pressure dissolves more oxygen in your body’s blood. The blood with the higher oxygen level is then delivered to those areas that are having trouble healing. Wound healing improves because the increase in the oxygen level:

  • Stimulates small blood vessel growth
  • Promotes new skin growth
  • Helps fight infection 

How long does it last?

An average treatment lasts about two hours. The number of treatments you will need can vary. Your treatment schedule will depend on your condition and your response to HBOT. 

Who can benefit from HBOT?

  • A person with diabetes and a wound that is slow to heal, or is not healing
  • Someone with tissue damage caused by radiation therapy
  • Someone with a skin graft that does not have a strong blood supply
  • Patients with certain infections of the bone and/or skin
  • Anyone with a wound that has not improved in four weeks

Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy Facts

Although the treatment chamber may seem small, most patients do not suffer from claustrophobia (fear of enclosed places). Once inside, you will be able to see out in all directions. Also, there is always a clinical team member with you during your treatment. For those patients still feeling anxious about their treatment, the doctor can prescribe medicine that will relax you and make your treatment less stressful.

The only feeling you will notice is when the treatment begins. This is called pressurization. The slowly increasing pressure will push on your eardrum. This is the same feeling you would experience when landing in an airplane or diving to the bottom of a swimming pool. A team member will instruct you on ways to relieve this ear pressure.

Side effects vary and may include a brief change in your vision after many treatments. For this reason, we advise that you do not change your eyewear prescription during or right after your treatments. 

Patients with diabetes

Many patients with diabetes have a drop in their blood sugar (glucose) level during a hyperbaric treatment. A team member will check your glucose level before and after each treatment. Be sure to stay on any prescribed diet and medicine as it is essential in order to maintain optimal wound healing.

All symptoms of low blood sugar must be reported right away to a team member. Barnes-Jewish Hospital can also assist you with managing your diabetes by working with your primary care doctor. 

Safety

HBOT is very safe as long as all the precautions are followed. As a patient, you will be given detailed information before your first treatment. Our mission at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and Washington University School of Medicine is to ensure your safety and provide you with the best care.
  • Food and drink: Please do not drink carbonated soft drinks or eat gas-producing foods (beans, broccoli, lettuce, apples, chewing gum, etc.) 2 hours before your treatment. The carbonation and/or gas caused by some foods can cause stomach or intestinal pain during the depressurization of the chamber.
  • Smoking: The nicotine and carbon monoxide in tobacco products slow down the process of healing and reduce how effective the treatment will be. It is extremely important that you do not use tobacco products during your course of hyperbaric oxygen therapy. 

Family members and visitors

  • Family members, significant others, and/or other support people are encouraged and welcome to take part in the patient’s initial orientation process at the Surgical and Wound Care Clinic
  • Please feel free to ask questions about the treatment. It is helpful to write your questions down before your visit
  • During the treatment itself, it is advised that only one visitor come with the patient
  • Children may come with the patient to the clinic, but must stay in the waiting area during the treatment

Dedicated team

HBOT evaluation and treatment are provided under the supervision of John Kirby, MD. Dr. Kirby is the Washington University medical director of the Surgical and Wound Care Clinic at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and is board-certified for HBOT. Teams involved with HBOT patient care include:
  • Resident physicians, graduate medical doctors (MDs) who are completing advanced training in a chosen medical field
  • Advance practice nurses working under a joint practice agreement with Washington University School of Medicine faculty
  • Professional personnel in nursing
  • Diagnostic labs
  • Social services
  • Pharmacy
  • Radiology
  • Food and Nutrition 

How do I schedule an appointment?

Patients must be evaluated for Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy before appointments can be scheduled. All HBOT evaluations will be by a doctor referral basis only and will be reviewed for appropriateness before scheduling. Please discuss this treatment option with your primary care doctor or specialist. 

 For additional help, or for a referral to a Washington University doctor at Barnes-Jewish Hospital, call 314-TOP-DOCS (314-867-3627) or toll-free 866-867-3627.

Find a doctor or make an appointment:
General Information: (314) 747-3000
One Barnes-Jewish Hospital Plaza
St. Louis, MO 63110
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