If It Ain't Broke: Hyperbaric Oxygen Not Helpful for Uncompromised Skin Grafts in New Study

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT)--the medical administration of oxygen at high pressure--does not appear to be effective in horses with skin grafts that are uncompromised and healing properly before treatment is initiated.

Skin grafts, which can be either full- or partial-thickness, are commonly applied to serious wounds--including burns and lacerations--in horses, particularly on the legs.

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy increases the amount of oxygen in the horse's bloodstream to create "hyperoxygenated" tissues. Hyperoxygenation reduces the amount of swelling and infection in compromised grafted tissues and supports healing tissues until blood flow is re-established at the site of grafting.

Hyperoxygenation is thought to decrease the rate of graft rejection.

In this study, six horses received one hour of HBOT per day for seven days after grafting was performed.

The researchers found through microscopic analysis that the grafts treated with HBOT had fewer new blood vessels and were more inflamed than the untreated grafts. In addition, the surfaces of grafts treated with HBOT were found to have a lower proportion of living cells than as compared to the untreated grafts. There was less swelling associated with the treated grafts.

Study co-author Steve Adair, MS, DVM, associate professor of equine surgery in the College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Tennessee, explained that even though high oxygen levels might be beneficial in some ways, the presence of low oxygen levels in wounded tissues is an important signal for the formation of new blood vessels.

"It is possible that HBOT reduces the signal for tissues to create new blood vessels and a slower rate of new blood vessel formation will decrease the overall rate of healing," summarized Adair.

Alternatively, an insufficient duration of treatment in this study might also explain the lack of observed benefit.

"If horses had been treated for more than seven days, blood vessels may have had time to grow into the graft--this study did not address this question," Adair explained.

The study, "Effects of hyperbaric oxygen on full-thickness meshed sheet skin grafts applied to fresh and granulating wounds in horses," was published in the January edition of the American Journal of Veterinary Research.

About the Author

Stacey Oke, DVM, MSc

Stacey Oke, MSc, DVM, is a practicing veterinarian and freelance medical writer and editor. She is interested in both large and small animals, as well as complementary and alternative medicine. Since 2005, she's worked as a research consultant for nutritional supplement companies, assisted physicians and veterinarians in publishing research articles and textbooks, and written for a number of educational magazines and websites.

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