What is Oxygen Therapy?
Oxygen therapy refers to breathing a high level of oxygen for a short time to correct a lack of oxygen in the tissues of the body. To raise the level of oxygen in damaged tissues, pure (100%) oxygen can be breathed with a tight fitting mask, but because oxygen is poorly soluble in blood it is also necessary to use a higher pressure. Individuals receiving oxygen therapy therefore need to sit in a pressure chamber, known as a barochamber. These are built of steel and accommodate between one and 4 people . Barochambers are pressurised up to twice normal atmospheric pressure. The pressure inside is increased by using compressed air, and oxygen is provided by a built-in breathing system. This is exactly the same technology used in pressurised commercial aircraft. Anyone can access the therapy – a referral from a GP or consultant is not required, and the oxygen therapy is administered by trained operators.
What is it used for?
People with MS find that oxygen therapy assists with the alleviation of all symptoms, particularly fatigue, incontinence, pain and muscle control. Many have been using it successfully for over 25 years. Oxygen therapy has also been shown to reduce deterioration with long-term use.
It also helps people with many conditions apart from MS. There can be rapid recovery from sports injuries. Some NHS hospitals refer patients with osteo-radionecrosis, and many centres have patients with diabetic ulcers, cerebral palsy and stroke. Yet oxygen therapy is rarely prescribed through the NHS and then only via private contractors who are members of the British Hyperbaric Association. Because of the costs associated with delivery by this route, oxygen therapy is rarely given to those who need it. Many MS therapy centres are able to offer the service to people with other conditions at a relatively low cost where capacity is available.
What is an Oxygen Therapy session like?
Oxygen therapy sessions at MS Therapy Centres are simple, non-invasive and painless, and once they have become accustomed to the procedure most users find the sessions pleasurable and relaxing. Each session consists of three phases.
After users have entered the barochamber to start a session the door is closed and there is the sound of incoming air as the pressure increases. It will usually get slightly warmer by a degree or so Celsius. Users usually feel ‘fullness’ in their ears, similar to descending from altitude in an aircraft. This can be relieved by clearing or ‘equalising’ the pressure in the ears, either by using prescribed techniques or just making conversation. If a member suffers discomfort they must inform the operator and the rate of compression can be either relieved or reduced. Other sounds can usually be ignored, but experienced operators generally give reassurance to users until they are used to the experience.
The treatment begins when the pressure reaches the prescribed level (from 1.25 atmosphere (ata) to 2.0 ata depending on the stage of treatment). Users may then rest, read, listen to music.
The operator advises users when the treatment is complete and reduces the pressure slowly, until it is the same as the ambient atmosphere. At this point, the barochamber door can be opened and the session ends.
Is it safe?
In 30 years of operation, over 2.5 million sessions of oxygen therapy using barochambers have been undertaken without a single serious incident. This outstanding record was commended by the Department of Health following a review of Centres in 2008, during which the Healthcare Commission recognised the MSNTC ‘Reference Manual for Oxygen Therapy’ as setting the standard for delivery of oxygen therapy.