History of Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy

What is Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy?

            Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT) includes a series of treatments “dives” within a hyperbaric chamber under specialized supervision. While within the chamber, the patient is introduced to a 100% oxygen environment under pressure. The pressure, duration and frequency of treatments are prescribed by the referring (or attending) physician. During treatment, the partial pressure of oxygen within tissue is increased. This affects the plasma within the patient’s blood, causing a dramatic increase to the plasma’s ability to carry oxygen to tissues and organs. Patients suffering from decompression sickness or an air embolism mostly benefit from the volumetric reduction of inert gas bubbles within tissue. HBOT treatment is also meticulously monitored. Treatment schedules can be subject to alteration depending upon the patient’s comfort.

The Beginning

            Hyperbaric using air can trace its heritage back several centuries to Henshaw’s work during the 1660’s or Robert Boyle observing decompression sickness in a viper in 1670. While Hyperbaric using Oxygen also owes a great deal to Boyle and Henshaw, the key to modern acceptance and success can be attributed to events just within the past 100 years.

Modern Hyperbaric Medicine

Doctors Behnke and Shaw (1933) recorded the first treatment of decompression sickness within a pressurized oxygen environment. Advances in the 50’s and 60’s came from great minds such as Dr. Ite Boerema, Dr. Willem Brummelkamp, Dr. George Smith and Dr. G. R. Sharp. Dr Brummelkamp discovered that anaerobic infections, such as gaseous and acute dermal gangrene, are inhibited by hyperbaric oxygen therapy. Doctors Smith and Sharp treated patients suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning with great success. Dr. Ite Boerema, war hero and brilliant cardiovascular surgeon, discovered the effects hyperbaric oxygen made on blood plasma; performed the first open heart surgery inside a hyperbaric chamber; and discovered that cardiac arrest could be induced during hyperbaric treatment for up to 8 minutes without irreparable effects (versus 4 minutes in nomobaric conditions). These successes gave rise to the wide spread use of hyperbaric medicine today.

The UMS (Undersea Medical Society) was originally conceived as an organization devoted to diving science and medicine. After its inception in 1967, the UMS had garnered popularity and interest from commercial divers, sports athletes and military personnel.

The establishment of their journal, Undersea Biomedical Research in 1974 sparked an already increasing interest in the practices of hyperbaric oxygen physiology and therapy. In 1986, the UMS was renamed to The Undersea and Hyperbaric Medical Society (UHMS) to more accurately represent the focus of the organization. The UHMS journal followed suit in 1993, when the publication was renamed to Undersea and Hyperbaric Medical Journal.

Today, the mission of the UHMS has been to improve the scientific basis of hyperbaric oxygen therapy. Included in these is the promotion of sound treatment protocols and standards of practice, while providing continued medical education (CME) accreditation within its field. At great cost and credit to the UHMS, Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy has become increasingly popular as studies affirm the vast applications of this discipline.