Oxygen therapy is used across the homecare and across healthcare settings for the effective treatment of respiratory diseases including COPD and asthma – but this is only part of the story.

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT), where a patient breathes pure oxygen at higher than atmospheric pressures, is becoming increasingly popular for the treatment of everything from sports injuries, to strokes, cancer and autism.

It isn’t just human medicine that is embracing hyperbaric treatments. In this post, AMS Composite Cylinders Director and keen horse rider, Malcolm Worrall, takes a look at HBOT in the equine sector, looking at the history of hyperbaric therapies, how they work, and how they’re being used in the treatment of horses.

How Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy works

Human and animal bodies need an adequate supply of oxygen to function correctly. Research has shown that increasing the levels of oxygen in the blood can promote the healing of injured tissues, whilst enhancing the ability of white blood cells to fight off infection, improving recovery in a range of conditions.

At sea level, the air we breathe is made up of about 21% oxygen, 78% nitrogen, and 1% carbon dioxide and other gases. The goal of HBOT is to increase the amount of oxygen in the blood of the patient by having them breathe in pure oxygen in a pressurised chamber.

Increasing the atmospheric pressure by 1.5 to 3 times, and filling the environment with 100% oxygen greatly increases the amount of oxygen in the patient’s bloodstream. This extra oxygen is then transported around the body, raising tissue oxygen values and boosting cellular repair mechanisms.

A Potted History of Hyperbaric Medicine

Early beginnings

Hyperbaric medicine has been around since the 17thcentury when British physician, Henshaw, created the first airtight chamber to treat health problems, where the atmosphere could be compressed using bellows and valves. Considering this was before the discovery of oxygen, he was somewhat of a pioneer – although the therapeutic benefits of these early treatments are questionable!

By the 19thcentury, hyperbaric air chambers had begun to find favour in Europe, firstly, as spa treatments. By the middle of the century leading French physician, Dr. Junod was using hyperbaric chambers therapeutically, ascribing the miraculous recovery of his patients to their time spent inside his high pressure chambers.

Decompression and discovery

In 1878, it was another Frenchman, physiologist Paul Bert, who first discovered the link between decompression sickness and nitrogen bubbles. He found that this could be reversed with recompression in a hyperbaric chamber.

Research continued, under the likes of Dr. John S. Haldane, who developed the first diving tables for the Royal Navy. By the 1930s, the US military had built on this research and developed safe and effective treatments for deep sea divers.

At the same time, Alvaro Osoria de Almeida, a Brazilian Physician, began to explore other potential uses of hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT), publishing several papers on the effects of high doses of oxygen on tumours. In 1955, physician Churchill Davies built on this, studying the use of hyperoxia in increasing the effectiveness of radiation treatments for cancer patients.

Modern treatments

Research into HBOT has continued, and today, it’s used to aid the recovery of a range of sporting injuries, wounds and inflammation, as well as for the ancillary treatment of autism, cancer, MS and strokes.

It’s even found favour in beauty treatments, for the direct treatment of acne, and to improve patient recovery outcomes following invasive cosmetic and plastic surgery.

Treatment in horses

As in human medicine, the veterinary sector has embraced HBOT – driven primarily by demand from the equine sector.

Since the turn of the millennium, HBOT has become increasingly popular with racehorses and stables – the first Hyperbaric chambers for horses were developed in America in 2000, and today, they are found all over the world.

Apart from the design of the chamber (they resemble oversized horse trailers) equine HBOT chambers work in the exact same way as their human counterparts.

A winning edge

The use of HBOT has been primarily driven by thoroughbred racehorse trainers and stud stables, looking for competitive advantage.

HBOT is now an integral part of the training process to many, used to aid post-race recovery, improve on-course speed and endurance, and to help boost outcomes following serious injuries. It’s even used as part of the breeding programmes, with proponents saying it boosts fertility in stallions.

Therapeutic uses

Equine HBOT is developing all the time, and it’s now being used as a component in the treatment of a number of different conditions, including:

  • Serious and chronic infections
  • Wounds and blood-deprived tissue
  • Compromised skin grafts
  • Air and gas embolisms (“bubbles”)
  • Clostridial myositis
  • Carbon monoxide poisoning, smoke inhalation
  • Accelerate collagen deposition
  • Bone infections
  • Gas gangrene
  • Post-operative colon torsions
  • Laminitis
  • Gastric ulcers, colitis and intestinal diseases
  • Lung and abdominal abscesses
  • Birth asphyxia (‘dummy foal’ syndrome)
  • Skin, muscle, tendinous and ligamentous injuries

Beyond horses

As the technology had developed, it has become more mainstream in the veterinary sector. Today, it’s used in the treatment of small animals as well.

In 2016, the UK’s first hyperbaric veterinary medicine chamber was acquired by Fitzpatrick Referrals, a specialist veterinary company in the South East of England, for the treatment of small animals.

Lightweight Oxygen Therapy Cylinders from AMS

AMS Composite Cylinders is the exclusive continental European and UK distributor for an advanced range of lightweight composite gas cylinders from Advanced Material Systems (AMS).

Products include carbon composite cylinders for a wide variety of breathing air and oxygen therapy applications, including healthcare, respiratory, SCBA (Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus), laboratory, emergency and environmental uses.

Our light composite gas cylinders offer high pressure (300 Bar), NLL (Non-Limited Life) performance, and are accredited for use worldwide – holding a wide range of quality assurance accreditations, including: ISO 11119-2, UN-TPED Pi, DOT (USA) and TC (Canada).


Additional information about AMS Composite Cylinders and our products can be found at www.ams-composites.com.