Inflammation is often the cause of the worst symptoms and tissue damage experienced with diseases and injuries. The inflammatory process is very dynamic: it’s designed to be the body’s damage control system, responsible for responding quickly to any kind of injury. Unfortunately, collateral damage to healthy tissue occurs from the process. The physical results of the inflammatory process can be uncomfortable, especially in cases where it becomes chronic.
Many people think of the word “injury” and think of a cut, a bruise, or brain injury. However, any type of trauma to tissue is considered an injury. The ingestion or inhalation of a toxic chemical, an audio blast insult to the ears, an infection, an immune response, an allergic reaction, a low-oxygen event (stroke, near-drowning, etc), or any event that causes pain, redness, or swelling internally or externally will trigger the inflammatory process. Immediately following the injury, blood vessels that feed the injured site become dilated to allow for an increase of blood flow to flood the area with white blood cells. The excess fluid from the dilated blood vessels leak through the tissue and causes edema (swelling). The goal of the white blood cells is to “clean up the mess.” They release toxins called oxygen-free radicals to metabolize dead tissue. Unfortunately, the oxygen-free radicals oxidize some healthy cells in the process, which can lead to further pain and damage. Toward the end of the inflammatory process, genes activate or deactivate to release needed hormones to heal, rebuild, and create scar tissue.
In many conditions, especially autoimmune diseases and traumatic brain injuries, the inflammatory process is prolonged or overactive causing chronic symptoms. Common symptoms of chronic inflammation include: fever, debilitating fatigue, muscle and joint pain, skin that is hot to the touch, loss of mobility/function in the affected area, swelling, and depression.
Research in emergency hyperbaric medicine has shown that, if a patient can get into a hyperbaric chamber within a couple of hours of their injury, up to 90% of the inflammatory process can be prevented. Increased pressure, increased oxygen, and the combination of the two have been shown to affect the expression of over 8,000 different genes: that’s about 40% of the entire human genome. According to Dr. Paul Harch, a genetic expression is responsible for every process in the body that sustains life. With hyperbaric therapy, anti-inflammatory genes are upregulated as well as genes that stimulate growth, healing, and prevent cell death. Simultaneously, genes which trigger the inflammatory process are downregulated. If a patient can receive hyperbaric therapy immediately following an injury, the inflammatory process can be bypassed while still promoting quick healing and rebuilding of the damaged tissues.
Fortunately, if a patient is unable to access hyperbaric therapy immediately– or even decades after their injury– they can still see benefits from treatments. The same process of stimulating growth and repair still applies, as does the anti-inflammatory power of oxygen. Chronic inflammation can be greatly reduced and can relieve the symptoms caused by inflammation and residual injury.