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What is Mild Hyperbaric Therapy?

By J.M. Densing
Updated May 17, 2024
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Mild hyperbaric therapy is the practice of utilizing increased air pressure to raise oxygen levels in a patient's body. The air pressure is increased inside a special chamber, and the increased pressure allows higher concentrations of oxygen to dissolve into the bloodstream. This is done to help the body heal itself of a wide variety of ailments. It works on the same principle as traditional, or full pressure, hyperbaric therapy but at a slightly lower air pressure and often uses regular air instead of pure oxygen.

When a patient arrives for mild hyperbaric therapy, he or she enters a chamber filled with compressed air at an air pressure greater than that outside. The pressure is usually set to 4 pounds per square inch (PSI), which is the equivalent of 11 feet (3.4 m) below sea level. This pressure is supposed to allow the liquids of the body, like blood, to absorb extra oxygen. This can cause a gradual increase in the amount of oxygen absorbed by tissues and organs such as the muscles, brain, or glands.

The increased oxygen uptake from mild hyperbaric therapy is supposed to be beneficial in many ways. The extra oxygen increases circulation; coupled with the higher air pressure, this is supposed to reduce swelling and inflammation. The oxygen is also said to help the body to increase and improve vital cellular functions, enhancing overall health and well being. It is also claimed that the increased oxygen levels amplify the body's ability to heal itself, due to oxygen's vital importance to all bodily processes.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has only approved the use of mild hyperbaric treatment for altitude sickness. In spite of this, it's currently used to treat a variety of ailments as an alternative healthcare method. Many professionals claim it is just as effective as traditional hyperbaric therapy for a much wider range of conditions, including long term treatment of cerebral palsy, autism, fatigue, fibromyalgia, and sleep disorders. The effectiveness of mild hyperbaric therapy with conditions other than altitude sickness is not yet verified by clinical studies approved by the FDA.

Often the air inside a mild hyperbaric chamber is pressurized ambient air, i.e., the same as room air. The pressure effect alone is supposed to be enough to increase the oxygen in the body without having the patient breathe it in pure form as he or she would with full pressure hyperbaric treatment. This is supposed to lower the risks of side effects, like oxygen toxicity as well as lowering the fire risk associated with oxygen use. There are apparently no reported negative side effects of mild hyperbaric therapy, and some patients say the treatment gives them a relaxed, refreshed feeling.

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