This type of therapy is a well-known treatment for decompression sickness, but it has many surprising uses. Find out about why and how oxygen can heal the body.
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy involves breathing pure oxygen in a pressurized environment. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is a well-established treatment for decompression sickness, a potential risk of scuba diving. Other conditions treated with hyperbaric oxygen therapy include:
In a hyperbaric oxygen therapy chamber, the air pressure is increased 2 to 3 times higher than normal air pressure. Under these conditions, your lungs can gather much more oxygen than would be possible breathing pure oxygen at normal air pressure.
This extra oxygen helps fight bacteria. It also triggers the release of substances called growth factors and stem cells, which promote healing.
Your body's tissues need an adequate supply of oxygen to function. When tissue is injured, it requires even more oxygen to survive. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy increases the amount of oxygen your blood can carry. With repeated treatments, the temporary extra high oxygen levels encourage normal tissue oxygen levels, even after the therapy is completed.
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is used to treat several medical conditions. And medical institutions use it in different ways. Your health care provider may suggest hyperbaric oxygen therapy if you have one of the following conditions:
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is generally a safe procedure. Complications are rare. But this treatment does carry some risk.
Potential risks include:
You'll be provided with a hospital-approved gown or scrubs to wear in place of regular clothing during the procedure.
For your safety, items such as lighters or battery-powered devices that generate heat are not allowed into the hyperbaric chamber. You also may need to remove hair and skin care products that are petroleum based, as they are a potential fire hazard. Your health care team will provide instruction on preparing you to undergo hyperbaric oxygen therapy.
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy typically is performed as an outpatient procedure but also can be provided while you are hospitalized.
In general, there are two types of hyperbaric oxygen chambers:
Whether you're in an individual or multiperson environment for hyperbaric oxygen therapy, the benefits are the same.
During therapy, the air pressure in the room is about 2 to 3 times higher than normal air pressure. The increased air pressure will create a temporary feeling of fullness in your ears. This is similar to what you might feel in an airplane or at a high elevation. You can relieve that feeling by yawning or swallowing.
For most conditions, hyperbaric oxygen therapy lasts approximately two hours. Members of your health care team will monitor you and the therapy unit throughout your treatment.
Your therapy team will check you after your session. A team member may look in your ears and take your blood pressure and pulse. If you have diabetes, your blood glucose is checked. Once the team decides you are ready, you can get dressed and leave.
You may feel somewhat tired or hungry following your treatment. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy doesn't limit activities.
In a one-person hyperbaric oxygen unit, a person rests inside a clear plastic tube and receives treatment. This is called a monoplace chamber.
To benefit from hyperbaric oxygen therapy, you'll likely need more than one session. The number of sessions depends upon your medical condition. Some conditions, such as carbon monoxide poisoning, might be treated in three visits. Others, such as nonhealing wounds, may require 40 treatments or more.
To effectively treat approved medical conditions, hyperbaric oxygen therapy is usually part of a broad treatment plan. This plan may include other therapies and medicines that are designed to fit your unique needs.