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We Went for Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy at The Nottingham Oxygen Centre

15 November 18 words: Anna Marshall
photos: Tom Morley
illustrations: Alex Vine

For those who suffer from various illnesses, good oxygen intake is crucial for recovery. It helps to rejuvenate cells in the body and, with the continued disappearance of trees, that is becoming increasingly difficult. Luckily, places like The Nottingham Oxygen Centre provide oxygen therapy to help alleviate symptoms of illness. We had a chat with the folk at the centre...

The body can survive without food for a number of weeks, without water for a number of days and only a matter of minutes without oxygen. Combining with nitrogen and hydrogen to regenerate new cells, oxygen is vital to our bodies, which replace roughly 700 billion cells every day. Oxygen’s also crucial to our immune system, as it feeds the white blood cells that kill off nasty bacteria and fight viruses.

It’s no wonder yoga has been making people feel better for 5,000 years, the exercises work on breathing technique and improving oxygen flow. Traditionally, people practicing yoga called breath “prana” which means “vital force”.

Oxygen is mainly created through trees; they emit it into the atmosphere when using energy from sunlight to make glucose from carbon dioxide and water, with one tree alone producing around 100kg of oxygen per year. Every human uses around 740kg of oxygen per year; so, just under seven and a half trees worth. Unfortunately, the number of trees in UK cities is on the decline and last year, Nottingham – alongside thirty other UK cities – failed the World Health Organisation’s air quality standards, which may explain why some of us are gasping for breath.

I visited The Nottingham Oxygen Centre a couple of months ago and experienced hyperbaric oxygen therapy for the first time. Having been diagnosed with benign hypermobility syndrome with features of fibromyalgia, I was desperate to find something to offer some relief to my symptoms of pain and fatigue.

I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the centre also offers physiotherapy, reflexology, massage, an exercise room, and a strong community vibe. People regularly bring cakes, treats, and even the occasional homegrown vegetable to share. Plus, there are all kinds of support groups and counselling services available.

It started to seem more than just a place offering treatments, and rather somewhere to meet people and share support; somewhere to get to know others experiencing similar difficulties.


Last year, Nottingham – alongside thirty other cities in the UK – failed the World Health Organisation’s air quality standards, which may explain why some of us are gasping for breath

For me, oxygen therapy really has worked. I've seen a reduction in my symptoms; my energy levels are higher and my pain has reduced. Although I still experience pain and difficulty walking, I feel more in control of my illness, and I've found something that offers me some relief without the negative side effects that sometimes come with more conventional prescription medications.

To find out more about the Centre, I got chatting to manager Maureen Mangan, who told me that two families, including two women suffering with multiple sclerosis, remortgaged their houses in 1984 in order to set the place up. They’re still the landlords to this day and continue to offer affordable rent and additional support through their charitable arm.

Initially, the Centre was aimed at people with MS. Dr Philip James found that people with the condition have bubbles appearing on their spinal cord and have the same kind of symptoms as people suffering from deep-sea sickness, commonly referred to as “the bends”.

Up until now, hyperbaric oxygen therapy has predominantly been used to treat people suffering deep-sea sickness. According to Maureen, “the most comprehensive guide” to Dr Philip James’s research can be found in a book titled Oxygen and the Brain, where he explains how hyperbaric oxygen can help conditions with similar symptoms in the same way. 

illustration: Alex Vine

He claims that, because oxygen therapy increases white blood cells in the body, it can be used to treat a variety of other conditions; autoimmune illnesses like ME, fibromyalgia and cancer. It’s also touted at various musical festivals as a way of increasing stamina, mental agility and way of quickly recovering from hangovers. However, the use of oxygen therapy to treat these afflictions is often disputed and today, it’s predominantly used to treat decompression sickness and gas embolism on the NHS.

Maureen explains that there’s approximately 23% oxygen in the atmosphere, and that inside the chamber you’re delivered 100% oxygen through a gas mask. At the Centre, oxygen is delivered within a pressurised chamber, and in Oxygen and the Brain, Dr Philip James explains that this decreases the volume of any gas contained within the chamber in accordance with Boyle's Law; in other words, the oxygen particles reduce in volume.

Other theories suggest that gas is absorbed by liquid at a greater volume in a pressurised environment in accordance with Henry's Law, meaning the liquid – in this case, your blood – absorbs more of the oxygen. If the volume of the oxygen has also been reduced, a greater quantity is absorbed at the same time.  

With cuts to services across the country, and many small charities struggling to keep afloat, I was intrigued to know how the centre had managed to survive. Currently, the centre charges £20 a year for membership, plus £12 for an hour and twenty minutes of oxygen therapy. Reflexology, physiotherapy and massage are £20 per session, and the exercise room is free to members within opening hours.

Maureen explains that it costs £80,000 a year to run the centre and that membership money only covers a fraction of these running costs, so they fundraise a lot to keep the place open. This year, Mapperley Golf Club got on board, with one member of the golf club donating 1% of earnings through his company. Some years, they hold a ball to raise money and have various other raffles and second-hand book sales. They’re always on the lookout for people who would like to get involved to help raise money and offer donations.  

Nottingham Oxygen Centre, Unit H1, Little Tennis Street South, NG2 4EU. 0115 950 5991

Always check with your doctor before receiving oxygen therapy.

Nottingham Oxygen Centre website

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