Hyperbaric treatment uses oxygen to help heal frostbite injuries

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NORTHBROOK, Ill. — In these frigid temperatures, frostbite is a major danger to our skin, but now there's a solution: oxygen!

At Healing with Hyperbarics in North Suburban Northbrook, they’ve added frostbite to the menu. Inside, tubular hyperbaric chambers are lined up and humming along. Patients sitting inside them rest, watch a little TV and take in oxygen pumped in from a giant tank sitting in the parking lot.

“Oxygen has a lot of healing properties. It reduces inflammation, which occurs with many different medical conditions – burns, infections and that inflammation can destroy tissue and cells,” said Dr. Janet Tomezsko of Healing with Hyperbarics.

The air we typically breathe is 21 percent oxygen, and inside a hyperbaric chamber, it’s 100 and pressurized.

“Almost like they are scuba diving. They are down underneath sea level in terms of pressure,” Dr. Tomezsko said.

The treatment works by infusing the blood with oxygen before pushing it to damaged areas. It has long been used to treat diabetic wounds or ulcers, tissue damaged by radiation for cancer and joint infections involving bone. More recently, it’s been offered to help concussion patients.

“Sometimes after frostbite so much of the tissue will actually die that it will need to be amputated or it will scar,” Dr. Tomezsko said.

Frostbite is a cold burn. When our body experiences severe cold, blood moves away from our ears, fingers and toes, resulting in tissue damage. When it turns black, it can’t be saved, but the focus of the treatment is the surrounding tissue that’s been compromised.

“The tissue can go from white and pale to pink and healthy appearing. It won’t heal the whole area in one treatment, but we can see improvements as early as one treatment," Dr. Tomezsko said.

Frostbite patients need immediate medical attention, so patients should go to the ER or a doctor first. But in the days following a diagnosis you can start hyperbaric treatments, which should be covered by insurance, but otherwise run $150 to $250 per session.

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