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Oxygen therapy at DCMH
May 11, 2011 - Jim Anderson
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) is coming soon to Dickinson County Memorial Hospital.
Earlier this week, the hospital board approved plans for a new building on the DCMH campus that will house two hyperbaric oxygen chambers. (Details were published in the Tuesday, May 10, edition of The Daily News.)
A couple of years ago, New York Times health writer Jane E. Brody noted that oxygen therapy was once dubbed “a treatment in search of diseases.”
Increasingly, though, hyperbaric chambers have become a popular choice for treating specific ailments such as diabetic foot ulcers. A number of conditions are eligible for Medicare reimbursement for oxygen therapy.
At DCMH, the chambers will be incorporated into the hospital’s wound care program, and the hospital administration has indicated there is a demonstrated need.
Under HBOT, a patient breathes a higher concentration of oxygen at a higher-than-usual atmospheric pressure. The pressurized oxygen, then, behaves as a drug. In the case of foot ulcers, the treatment is meant to induce blood vessel growth and control infection.
Beyond that — for conditions ranging from autism to cerebral palsy — there is a lingering controversy that places oxygen therapy somewhere between “miracle cure” and “quackery.”
According to the American Cancer Society, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has sent a warning letter to at least one manufacturer about promoting HBOT for unproven uses.
“Available scientific evidence does not support claims that HBOT stops the growth of cancer cells, destroys germs, improves allergy symptoms, or helps patients who have chronic fatigue syndrome, arthritis, multiple sclerosis, autism, stroke, cerebral palsy, senility, cirrhosis, or gastrointestinal ulcers,” the society reports on its website.
Meanwhile, professional athletes continue to explore the potential benefits of oxygen therapy.
Last fall, Washington Post reporter Dan Steinberg reported that hyperbaric chambers are “all over the NFL,” with an increasing number of football players buying HBOT “tents” to help them speed recovery from injuries.
Near as I can tell, the jury is still out on whether it’s worth it, though some players swear by it.
A.J. Hawk of the Green Bay Packers received notoriety a few years ago for reportedly sleeping in an oxygen chamber, ala Michael Jackson in the 1980s. More recently, a growing number of players admit to at least napping in oxygen units.
No one’s suggesting the Flivvers and Mountaineers will one day line up at DCMH to catch some “rest” in the chambers.
But never say never.
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