Jay Leno remained hospitalized Friday after he underwent surgery following a gasoline accident that resulted in serious burns to his face and hands.
The injury took place after a gasoline fire erupted in the legendary comedian and “Tonight Show” host’s garage over the weekend. While he was working on his car, a clogged fuel line uncorked, spraying fuel in his face and a nearby spark ignited the gasoline.
Leno underwent surgery for excision and grafting for second and third-degree burns and was slated for another procedure this week.
In a statement earlier this week Leno said he needed “a week or two” to get back on his feet. But on Wednesday, Dr. Peter Grossman, the medical director of the Grossman Burn Center, said that Leno is “realizing that he does need to perhaps take it a little slower than he initially anticipated.”
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For now, Leno is undergoing “very aggressive” hyperbaric oxygen therapy, Grossman said.
So what is the therapy and how does the treatment work?
What is hyperbaric oxygen therapy?
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy, also known as HBOT, is a treatment that decreases swelling and wards off bacteria. The treatment, administered in a special hyperbaric chamber, is done to speed the healing of wounds resistant to healing and fight off infection, according to John Hopkins.
“The high levels of oxygen kill bacteria, promote new blood vessel growth, and increase growth factors: all creating an ideal environment for the skin to heal,” Dr. Martin O’Malley, medical director at MDHyperbaric in New York City, told USA TODAY Friday.
HBOT is also well-established treatment for carbon monoxide poisoning, gangrene, and decompression sickness, a potential risk of scuba diving.
How does the oxygen therapy work?
A patient is treated in a hyperbaric oxygen therapy chamber, where the air pressure is increased two to three times higher than normal air pressure, according to the Mayo Clinic. That allows a patient’s lungs to gather much more oxygen, which helps fight bacteria.
Injured tissue requires more oxygen to survive. Extra oxygen delivered by the treatment is meant to trigger the release of growth factors and stem cells to promote healing, according to Mayo.
Mayo Clinic researchers said the therapy also increases the amount of oxygen a person’s blood can carry. “With repeated treatments, the temporary extra high oxygen levels encourage normal tissue oxygen levels, even after the therapy is completed,” according to Mayo Clinic’s patient information about the treatment.
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What does HBOT do for burns?
The goals of treating thermal burns are minimizing the edema (swelling caused by excess fluid trapped in your body’s tissues), keeping tissue viable, protecting the microvasculature (the tiny system of blood vessels within body tissue), and enhancing host defenses to fight infection, said O’Malley, who is also the team orthopedist for the Brooklyn Nets, team physician for USA Basketball and Iona University athletics, as well as the foot and ankle consultant for the New York Giants and New York City Ballet.
“HBOT addresses these concerns by reducing edema, decreasing fluid requirements, preserving dermal structures with improved vascularity, and increasing immune response,” he said. “These physiological benefits of oxygen under pressure demonstrate improved healing, decreased mortality, reduction in hospital stay, and decreased need for surgery in thermal burn patients.”
How often is it needed?
Treatment should start as soon as possible after thermal burn injury, O’Malley said.
Three treatments are suggested in the first 24 hours and twice daily after that. Sessions last 90 minutes and should be continued for 20-30 sessions.
However, he said, the number of treatments depends on the clinical extent of the injury and response to treatment.
What other conditions does it treat?
HBOT is also used for the healing of patients’ wounds after surgery, as well as those with autoimmune disorders and Long COVID, O’Malley said.
“This therapy has been around for decades and originally the benefits for thermal burn patients were seen in 1965 when it was observed to heal second-degree burns faster in a group of coal miners who were being treated for carbon monoxide,” he said.
Health care providers may also suggest hyperbaric oxygen therapy for the following conditions:
- Severe anemia.
- Brain abscess.
- Bubbles of air in your blood vessels, known as arterial gas embolism.
- Carbon monoxide poisoning.
- Crushing injury.
- Deafness, sudden.
- Decompression sickness.
- Infection of skin or bone that causes tissue death.
- Nonhealing wounds, such as a diabetic foot ulcer.
- Radiation injury.
- Traumatic brain injury.
- Vision loss, sudden and painless.
Natalie Neysa Alund covers trending news for USA TODAY. Reach her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @nataliealund.