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  • Writer's picturepaul watts

Brief Amazing History of Hyperbaric Medicine


The first person to utilize compressed air in a sealed metal container called a "Domicilium" to achieve a hyperbaric environment was Nathaniel Henshaw in 1662. Around this time, an Irish inventor, named Robert Boyle, stated that the pressure and volume of a gas were inversely proportional when the temperature were held constant. Hence, "Boyle's Law". This law has formed the basis for several components of Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT).

During the following two hundred years afterwards, saw numerous new details of the apparent benefits of utilizing increased pressure for oxygenation, but the 1870's hyperbaric chambers were being pressed into service for a wide range of conditions, even when scientists lacked the general scientific understanding the mechanism of action that their medical devices utilized. In 1917, two German inventors, Bernhard and Heinrich Drager utilized pressurized oxygen to successfully treat decompression sickness from diving accidents.


America's first hyperbaric chamber was not built until 1861 by a neurologist named James Corning from New York. His interest in HBOT came from when he witnessed the severe cases of decompression illness among tunnel workers, this also occurred in many bridge construction workers during the 1880's. Who were working below the river level for long hours, the most famous were the Brooklyn Bridge workers during that time.

An American HBOT practitioner in 1921, named Dr. Orval Cunningham, constructed a hyperbaric chamber in Kansas City to combat the Spanish Flu Pandemic of 1918. This same physician built the world's largest HBOT chamber in Cleveland, OH. in 1928. It was called the Cunningham Sanitarium and it was the first attempt to create a hyperbaric hotel.


In 1956, interest in HBOT was re-awakened. Physicians wanted to utilize HBOT for medical illnesses besides decompression illness, a Dutch Cardiac Surgeon, Ite Boerema, utilized HBOT to aid his cardiopulmonary surgeries. Afterwards, many more encouraging reports were being related concerning the utilization of HBOT. A physician named, Willem Brummelkamp, related in 1961, that anaerobic infections were reduced by HBOT. Since the 1960's, HBOT has been heavily utilized to effectively treat numerous medical ailments, mainly in the Acute hospital setting.


In the past twenty-five years, interest and utilization of HBOT has greatly expanded around the world. While we in the United States, only exercise 13- 15 of the possible HBOT treatment indications. Other countries have expanded their HBOT treatment indications to nearly 80 possible medical treatment applications, with more being added yearly. With this renewed interest and additional quality research perhaps we may able to increase the number of viable treatment indications in America?


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