So why is a mild hyperbaric treatment referred to as a “dive”?
At sea level, the atmospheric pressure (atm) is ~14.7 lbs. per square inch. Consider for a moment that atmospheric pressure is actually the weight of the air pressing down on us. Now if you’re 5,800 feet above sea level like myself, that pressure is more like 12 lbs. per square inch. As the elevation increases, the weight of the atmosphere decreases since there’s simply less of it (air)2. Make Sense? So since there’s less weight above us, there’s also less pressure.
Think of the strong man at the circus with 4 people standing on his shoulders. As one after another dismounts, he has less pressure and weight on his frame. It’s similar with atmospheric pressure and the force it exerts. Did you know that water boils at 212ºF at sea level, but as the elevation increases, the temperature that water boils decreases by about 2° for every 1,000 feet. So water boils at ~200ºF at 5,800 ft. above sea level. The difference in the boiling point of water is directly related to the atmospheric pressure difference at the various altitudes. Believe it or not, water boils at ~160ºF on the top of Mt. Everest! But very few people ever boil an egg while there.
Why is this important? And how does it relate to mild hyperbaric oxygen therapy? Good questions. The mechanics behind the mild hyperbaric chamber are two-fold. The first is that essential element we all need – Oxygen and its life giving properties. The second is….you guessed it – Pressure!
Hyper meaning above/over - Baric of or relating to weight, especially that of the atmosphere 1,3. So oxygen and pressure are the two magic ingredients behind hyperbaric oxygen therapy. The oxygen is literally forced into the body and into our cells due to the increase in atmospheric pressure involved when the chamber is pressurized. We become like an Oxygen Sponge and soak it up at a cellular level. No wonder we Feel and Sleep better after this OXYGEN FEAST!!
So, what is the atmospheric pressure in a fully inflated mild hyperbaric chamber you ask? That depends; but let’s assume your chamber is similar to the one we lease at AHS. The Chamber is fully pressurized at about 4.4 PSI or ~1.3 atmospheres. This is equal to 19.1 lbs. per square inch – that’s about a 4.4 PSI increase if you’re at sea level and a 7.1 PSI increase at 5,800 ft above sea level. You would experience a similar pressure at ~17 1/2 feet below sea level. The atmospheric pressure increases more dramatically under water because water weighs a lot more than air – it’s that simple. Consider for each 1 foot you descend under sea level the pressure increases by about .025 PSI – so the pressure doubles every 40 feet when you’re down under!
1. Atmospheric pressure. (2016, June 5). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 14:01, June 9, 2016, from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Atmospheric_pressure&oldid=723894874
2. University of Illinois http://ww2010.atmos.uiuc.edu/(Gh)/guides/mtr/fw/prs/def.rxml
3. hyperbaric. (n.d.). Dictionary.com Unabridged. Retrieved June 09, 2016 from Dictionary.com website http://www.dictionary.com/browse/hyperbaric