WEST CHESTER, PA — As Jay Leno has taken over headlines for his injuries sustained in a gasoline fire, many have little to no knowledge of the specialized treatment he’s receiving for his second and third-degree burns on his face, hands, and chest.
Leno is undergoing hyperbaric oxygen therapy. Penn Medicine Chester County Hospital‘s wound care experts are explaining the treatment, what it means for Leno, and the Penn Wound and Hyperbaric Center’s ability to treat similar injuries.
The Healing Power of Oxygen Therapy
You know how painful it can be if you’ve accidentally burned yourself on the stove. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could speed up the healing process?
Thanks to hyperbaric oxygen therapy, you can. Using oxygen — which plays a vital role in wound healing — you can support the healing process, making it quicker and more efficient.
According to Dr. David D’Angelo, DO, Medical Director of Penn Wound Care and Hyperbaric Medicine at Chester County Hospital, there are two parts of your cells involved in healing that require oxygen: the mitochondria (the powerhouse of cells) and the stem cells (the repair system for the body).
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy uses a special pressure chamber that increases the amount of oxygen in your blood so your wounds can heal faster and more efficiently. It can improve your oxygen supply, reduce swelling, and stop infection while relaxing in the chamber.
How Hyperbaric Therapy Works — and Whom It Can Benefit
Hyperbaric therapy requires zero needles and zero incisions — it only requires that you enter the hyperbaric chamber. And while this chamber might look a little like a spaceship, it’s just like any other medical equipment that benefits your body and how it heals.
Inside the hyperbaric chamber, the air pressure is roughly two and a half times higher than normal air pressure. This allows your body to carry more oxygen to your organs and tissues, supporting healing.
“Oxygen, in and of itself, is a drug,” explains Dr. D’Angelo. “When it meets certain body parts, it can have a healing effect.”
Typically, oxygen gets delivered to wounds through your blood system. During hyperbaric therapy, your entire body receives the treatment. As a result, oxygen can go beyond your arteries’ reach — extending the healing benefits of oxygen.
When you add in the air pressure of the chamber, it concentrates the delivery of oxygen to specific areas, such as a wound that needs healing. This high dose of oxygen stimulates the power of the mitochondria in the cells, which provide the cells with energy. Even more, it attracts stem cells — which are healing cells — to the impaired area.
As Dr. D’Angelo says, “This is where the healing powers exert their effect.” Hyperbaric therapy can benefit several conditions, including emergencies such as carbon monoxide poisoning or a crush injury.
“While burns are not a direct indication of hyperbaric oxygen therapy,” says Dr. D’Angelo, “the therapy is often utilized with skin grafts, and when started early, may improve a graft’s chance of success by improving oxygen flow to deprived tissue, as well as mitigating the associated inflammatory processes.”
At Penn Wound Care and Hyperbaric Medicine at Chester County Hospital, treatments are usually daily healing operations, such as a foot ulcer from diabetes or chronic radiation injury from radiation therapy for cancer.
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy can also benefit other conditions, such as:
- Bone infections
- Skin grafts
- Severe anemia
- Wounds that haven’t healed with other treatments
According to Benjamin Wolf, Administrative Director of Penn Wound Care and Hyperbaric Medicine at Chester County Hospital, specific indications must be met to provide the hyperbaric oxygen treatment Leno is receiving.
“At Chester County Hospital and within Penn Medicine, we can treat all approved indications of hyperbaric therapy,” explains Wolf. “And we can offer the same treatment Leno is currently receiving.”
Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy: The Experience
Being inside a hyperbaric oxygen chamber is a lot like laying in your bed — only you’re inside a glass cylinder, and not at home. You can see in all directions, but you’re still in a closed environment, which might initially feel a little strange. “It’s a bit unusual — but it’s very adaptable,” Dr. D’Angelo says.
While in the chamber, you can still enjoy some relaxation by watching one of the televisions that are placed outside the chamber. You can also speak with the hyperbaric oxygen chamber technician, who is about a foot away from you and always within your view.
You may feel some pressure in your ears — much like flying in a plane. To help ease this feeling, you can try clearing your ears by swallowing, yawning, or opening and closing your mouth.
Hyperbaric therapy usually requires more than one treatment. “It’s not a one-and-done process. There is a significant time commitment,” Dr. D’Angelo says. The standard 2-hour treatment is usually done 5 days per week for 2 months.
Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy and Your Well-being
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy may be able to provide you with the right combination of oxygen and pressure to speed up your healing process — and it may just be the breath of “fresh” air that your body needs.
Your body usually does an impressive job of healing itself, but sometimes it needs a little help. Because healing plays a role in so many parts of your body, the benefits of hyperbaric therapy are numerous.
“Hyperbaric therapy is often an underappreciated therapy, notes Dr. D’Angelo. “We are grateful for Leno’s improvement and that he is responding to his hyperbaric oxygen therapy.”
If you have questions about how hyperbaric oxygen therapy can benefit your wound healing, call 610-738-2590 to make an appointment at Penn Wound Care and Hyperbaric Medicine Center. Virtual telemedicine appointments are available.
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