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Last Updated: Wednesday, 31 August 2005, 10:01 GMT 11:01 UK
What are oxygen chambers all about?
The Magazine answers...

Illusionist Criss Angel
US illusionist Criss Angel used one in his last high-profile stunt
England bowler Simon Jones is using an oxygen chamber to try to heal his ankle injury in time for the decisive Ashes Test. Why?

Before the possibility of winning the Ashes turned an ankle injury into a national crisis, the only thing most people had heard about oxygen chambers was that Michael Jackson reputedly slept in one.

But the benefits of being sealed in such a container, breathing in 100% oxygen instead of the 21% found in normal air, reach far beyond treating sports injuries and pandering to the vanity of the rich and famous.

The therapy, called hyperbaric medicine, has been around for centuries and has been used clinically since the mid 1800s. It became popular in the 1930s as a way to help divers with "the bends", a potentially fatal condition caused by ascending through the water too quickly.

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The pressure in the chamber increases the amount of oxygen that dissolves in the bloodstream and the body's tissues. The dissolved oxygen can reduce inflammation, speeding up the healing process.

This has made it a popular way to treat sporting injuries, but doctors have also become increasingly aware over the years of its potential in treating other medical conditions.

While not all research has been conclusive about the benefits of hyperbaric chambers, they have been found to help diabetics, who often have problems with the blood and oxygen supply to tissues which can lead to ulcers which are slow to heal, or do not heal at all.

Chinese students in oxygen chamber
1: Rehabilitation of stroke victims
2: Treat sudden blindness
3: Treat breast cancer
4: Treat smoke inhalation
5: Help with skin grafts
6: Speed up healing of sports injury

They are also used in the treatment of bone infections, gangrene, smoke inhalation, skin grafts, burns and crush injuries - among other things.

And studies are currently underway to find out whether they can benefit cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, breast cancer and stroke patients, as well as help autism and sudden blindness.

Hyperbaric treatments are also used by some to reduce the effects of aging.

When pop singer Michael Jackson was pictured in an oxygen chamber in the late 1980s, it prompted frenzied tabloid speculation that he slept in it in an attempt to stay young looking.

In some countries, including China, students use them before exams believing they boost mental abilities.

They have also been used by some of the world's biggest magicians. Last month cult US illusionist Criss Angel locked himself into one in a New York park, which was then submerged in 2,000 gallons of water. He had 33 hours to get out before his oxygen ran out, he escaped after 24.

But while oxygen may keep us alive, using a hyperbaric chamber is not without its risks. Having 100% oxygen is actually poisonous, particularly at high pressures, which mean the body absorbs more. This is why patients can only spend a few hours a time having treatment.

Also, the fire risk of large quantities of pressurised oxygen is not inconsiderable.

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Simon Jones' exclusive column
30 Aug 05 |  Ashes 2005


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