June 2007

The Healing Power of Oxygen

Author: Linda S. Hopkins

Hyperbarics of Hilton Head brings state-of-the-art treatments to the Lowcountry

Something new is in the air on Hilton Head Island. It’s not another invisible biting bug or mutant form of pollen. It’s pure oxygen. Available at Hyperbarics of Hilton Head, located in the LifeSpan Center, 58 Shelter Cove Lane, this is more than the air that you breathe. It’s hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT)—a growing medical specialty that is proving effective as a healing treatment for myriad conditions.

Tracy Custer and her daughter Olivia.

HBOT is the medical use of 100 percent oxygen at a higher than atmospheric pressure. Although not promoted as a “cure-all,” hyperbaric oxygen therapy has been clearly demonstrated to dramatically increase immune capabilities. According to clinic manager and trained technician, Sarah Riske, the treatments are typically used as part of an overall medical plan, not as a substitute for traditional medicine. Some positive effects include promoting the growth of new blood vessels, decreasing swelling and inflammation, increasing your body’s ability to fight infections and clearing out toxins and metabolic waste products.

Who can benefit?
Almost everyone can benefit from HBOT, including:
• Athletes desiring peak performance and rapid recovery from workout or injury.
• Anyone seeking general health improvement and relief from non life-threatening conditions such as headaches, fatigue, arthritis, asthma, allergies and more.
• Persons requiring rapid recovery from injury or trauma, or those preparing for or recovering from surgery, including cosmetic procedures.
• Sufferers of chronic and/or serious medical conditions or illnesses such as autism, multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, Lyme disease, fibromyalgia, stroke and many others.

According to Riske, patients from around the nation are coming to Hilton Head Island for treatment. Although extremely popular in Europe and Japan, there are only about 400 hyperbaric chambers across the United States, and they are primarily used for wound care and burns, she explained. “The company that owns this clinic [Haelen Hyperbarics] hopes to change that by providing a turnkey solution to physicians who want to offer hyperbaric oxygen therapy to their patients,” she said.

Haelen Hyperbarics is owned by Hilton Head Island residents, Andrew Kolb and retired ER physician, Dr. Pete Stephens. Hyperbarics of Hilton Head Island accepts patients by physician referral or self referral. A brief medical evaluation is required prior to treatment and can be provided by the clinic’s medical director, Dr. Paul Long.

How does it feel?
The chamber is an enclosed cylindrical capsule, like a small submarine, in which you will lie down on a comfortable pallet. You will be provided 100 percent cotton scrubs to wear during your treatment. To ensure safety, you will also be asked to remove hearing aids, dentures, hard contact lenses, nylon wigs, hairpieces and jewelry before entering the chamber. No electronic devices, paper products, petroleum ointments, lighters or matches are allowed inside the chamber.

The sides and top of the chamber are clear, so that you can see your surroundings and interact with the technician as needed. The therapy does not hurt. You feel as if you are breathing normal air. The only way you might know the pressure is changing is by a popping feeling in your ears, similar to what you might experience in a descending airplane, which can be remedied by swallowing or yawning. During treatment, which takes approximately one and a half hours, you can rest comfortably or watch TV or DVDs. If claustrophobia is an issue, your doctor may provide a sedative to help you relax.

According to Riske, after the treatment, everyone reports a better night’s rest and really deep sleep. Many patients experience an increase in energy as well as noticeably smoother skin. When performed by a trained technician, HBOT is safe and effective and side-effects are mild and minimal. There is no recovery period, so you can resume your daily activities immediately. It’s as easy as breathing!

How many treatments will you need?
Achieving results from HBOT requires a physical and financial commitment to a treatment plan as determined by the onsite physician. Sports injuries respond quickly to HBOT and may only require a few visits. However, some chronic conditions may require up to 40 treatments. The cost per treatment is $250, with a slight discount after the first 12 visits. Insurance companies and Medicare cover the cost of the treatments for 14 specific label indications as approved by the FDA. Off-label uses are not covered by insurance. For a complete list of treatable conditions and their label status, visit www.hyperbaricshh.com or call 843-341-5269 for more information.

According to Riske, while especially effective for wound healing, some of the most dramatic effects she has seen at the local clinic have been with arthritis and fibromyalgia patients. “The coolest thing about working here is seeing how these people’s lives are changed—people who have suffered for years and didn’t know where to turn.”

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