Air embolisms are caused when gas bubbles enter blood vessels. This results in poor blood flow and decreased oxygen delivery to the areas where the blood vessels have been affected. Air embolisms can be fatal or result in serious disabilities. Following an air embolism a person might experience weakness or paralysis in the limbs, loss of vision, heart, lung or brain damage and many other permanent health conditions. Aggressive treatment of air embolism is needed to ensure the best chance of recovery from this disease.
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy has been used to reduce the size of bubbles circulating in blood vessels.
The increased pressure in the hyperbaric chamber makes the bubbles smaller and helps push them back into physical solution, while the high oxygen pressure washes out the gas from the bubble. Once the bubbles are smaller or gone, blood flow resumes.
This allows poorly oxygenated tissues to receive high levels of oxygen. Also, when vessels are obstructed by gas bubbles they leak fluid causing swelling in the surrounding tissues. When blood flow is restored, the swelling subsides, improving blood supply and oxygen delivery even more. Lastly, high amounts of oxygen provided in the hyperbaric chamber support the areas injured by air embolisms while blood flow reduction and tissue swelling are being repaired. Air embolisms are medical emergencies and are treated within a hospital setting.