Experienced diver Gabi Stenzel was on holiday in Australia about four weeks ago when she knew something was wrong.
“It was just a normal dive and everything was fine but when I came out my right ear was completely deaf,” said the 44-year-old German UAE expatriate.
“It was strange. In the beginning you think maybe it is due to pressure, after one or two hours it will go, and then you realise that it’s not going [to go] and you really feel confused because the surroundings have strange sounds when you have only one ear to hear.”
When the mother of two’s hearing failed to return to normal, she sought advice from a specialist in Dubai and was surprised when hyperbaric oxygen therapy was suggested.
Ms Stenzel was familiar with this therapy being used to treat decompression sickness, or “the bends”.
But little did she know it would one day help her out with her condition – sudden hearing loss.
The treatment involves the administration of 100 per cent oxygen while the patient is in a pressurised environment.
She started the therapy on November 11 and after seven sessions, halfway through the treatment, she believed her hearing was already back to between 60 and 70 per cent.
“It’s really improving a lot. I was hoping for it and also I did some research on the internet,” said the mum-of-two, who is undergoing the treatment at Innovative Healing Systems Clinic at Dubai Healthcare City, which has been treating patients since June and officially opened on November 17.
The treatment involves her lying in the chamber for about an hour a day.
“We administer 100 per cent oxygen and the chamber itself gets pressurised so it’s as though you are going diving. It’s equivalent to being under water about 33 feet [10 metres],” said the hyperbaric centre’s Dr Ekta Anandani.
“The combination of high pressure with 100 per cent oxygen forces more oxygen to go into the blood stream and that increases the amount of oxygen in the blood plasma by about 10 times, compared to if you were sitting in a room breathing room air, which only has 21 per cent oxygen.”
There are different theories as to why patients present with sudden hearing loss, she said.
“One of the theories is that there is fluid in the inner ear that should provide nutrition and oxygen to the hearing cells of the inner ear. In patients with sudden hearing loss, we think they have a low amount of oxygen in that area.
“The blood vessels in that area are very limited, so what the treatment does is that it will provide more oxygen to that area and then that will improve the healing of those hearing cells that have been damaged.”
It can be caused by an infection in some cases but in other cases the cause is unknown, she added.
The treatment is also used to help with non-healing wounds, such as diabetic foot ulcers, non-healing surgical wounds and bed sores, as well as wounds that can occur in cancer patients who have had radiation, said the doctor.
“Hyperbaric oxygen therapy helps new blood vessels to form and that will increase the blood supply to the feet or to any area where there is a wound,” she said. “It will also provide oxygen to that area and the oxygen will help the wound to heal.
“The high oxygen levels will help fight infection,” she added.
The chamber the patient lies in, which is about two metres, is transparent so they can both be seen and see outside.
“He can watch TV while going through the treatment. He can talk to family members if he wants to,” said Mr Sujit Kumbhani, the chief operating officer at the clinic. “He can listen to the radio even but he cannot take any electric items into the chamber.
“He has a pillow and a blanket. He can basically relax in there.”
As an adjunctive therapy, it works alongside the patient’s other forms of treatment, said the biomedical engineer.
In the case of diabetic foot – an infection or wound in the foot of a diabetic patient who has a nerve or blood vessel affected by the disease – it reduces the chances of amputation, he said.
It can also be used to help treat bone infections.
The clinic was founded in the United States and has 12 centres worldwide.