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Wound Care Options Include Oxygen Therapy

​​​​​​​​​​Chronic wounds affect some 5.7 million people annually. They are common in patients who have poor circulation or diabetes, or from unrelieved pressure to tissues, known as “pressure ulcers.” 

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Because of the rising incidence of diabetes in the nation’s population, the need for wound healing treatment is expected to grow.

Caregivers may be the first to notice when a wound is not healing.

“It is recommended that a patient with a wound that does not improve in six weeks under a doctor’s care be referred to a comprehensive wound healing program,” said General Surgeon Michael Caldwell, M.D., Ph.D., medical director for the wound healing program at Marshfield Clinic Marshfield Center and for the Hyperbaric Medicine Center at Ministry Saint Joseph’s Hospital, Marshfield. “The underlying cause of the wound will be diagnosed, and the treatment plan will use all advanced treatment methods, including hyperbaric oxygen therapy, if it is appropriate for the patient.”

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) for wound healing has been promoted widely. This form of therapy uses 100 percent oxygen that is inhaled within a pressurized chamber. “The increased amount of oxygen being carried by the blood to the organs and tissues improves the body’s ability to heal itself,” said Dr. Caldwell. “Medical conditions, for which hyperbaric oxygen therapy may be appropriate, go beyond wound healing.”

Carbon monoxide poisoning, decompression sickness (also known as “the bends,”) and certain kinds of wounds, skin and bone infections, and radiation injury are among conditions that benefit from HBOT. “About 40 percent of hyperbaric oxygen treatments nationwide are for tissue injury following radiation therapy for cancer,” said Dr. Caldwell. “But increasing numbers of patients are receiving hyperbaric oxygen therapy for arm, foot, hand or leg wound treatment.”

Patients can self-refer for the wound care program at Marshfield Clinic or for hyperbaric medicine services at Ministry Saint Joseph’s Hospital. “Each patient undergoes an exam to understand the cause of the wound and if hyperbaric medicine is recommended, to make sure the therapy is appropriate and safe,” said Dr. Caldwell.

The most common issue with patients undergoing hyperbaric oxygen therapy is the air pressure change across the eardrum. The sensation is similar to that felt in an airplane descending to land. “In an airplane, descent is frequently more than 30-45 minutes. In the chamber, patients go through the descent in pressure in 15 minutes at the most,” said Dr. Caldwell. “Patients are trained to clear the pressure in their ears often during the first 15 minutes of treatment. After that, they can rest quietly in the chamber and watch television or a movie, listen to music or take a nap.”

Adults and children are affected by conditions that can benefit from hyperbaric oxygen therapy. The number of treatments needed depends on the patient’s specific condition and will be discussed before starting therapy. Treatments typically last two hours and are administered one to two times per day, five days per week.