What Conditions Do Hyperbaric Chambers Treat?
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is a type of medical treatment in which patients are exposed to oxygen under increased atmospheric pressure in order to boost the oxygen content in the blood.
The air we breathe is 21% oxygen. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy involves breathing 100% (pure) oxygen while in a hyperbaric chamber.
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is good for:
- Air bubbles in the blood stream (air gas embolism)
- Infections, including soft tissue infections and certain types of brain or sinus infections
- Anemia due to severe blood loss
- Carbon monoxide poisoning
- Patients with scuba diving injuries such as decompression sickness
- Surgical wounds and adhesions
- Nonhealing wounds
- Crush injuries
- Skin grafts that have failed to heal with traditional treatment
- Radiation injuries, such as damage from radiation therapy for cancer
- Hearing loss (complete hearing loss that occurs suddenly and without any known cause)
- Vision loss (when sudden and painless in one eye due to blockage of blood flow)
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is being investigated for other conditions, but despite some claims, it is not FDA-approved to treat:
How Is a Hyperbaric Chamber Used?
- In hyperbaric oxygen therapy, a patient lies in a hyperbaric oxygen chamber, which is a long plastic cylinder with a padded table that slides inside it.
- The chamber is gradually pressurized with pure oxygen — up to 2.5 times the normal atmospheric pressure. This increased pressure helps the blood carry the additional oxygen throughout the body.
- The chamber is slowly depressurized when the session is over.
- Sessions usually last about two hours. Several sessions are usually needed, depending on the condition being treated.
What Are Side Effects of a Hyperbaric Chamber?
Side effects of hyperbaric oxygen therapy in a hyperbaric chamber include:
- Claustrophobia (fear of enclosed spaces)
- A sensation of ear fullness during the procedure
- Temporary tiredness and lightheadedness
- Temporary worsening nearsightedness (myopia) but improvement in farsightedness (presbyopia), lasting about six to eight weeks after treatments stop
- May cause pre-existing cataracts to mature faster than normal
- Drop in blood sugar (hypoglycemia) during treatments
What Are Complications of a Hyperbaric Chamber?
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy in a hyperbaric chamber is generally considered safe and complications are uncommon. When complications of hyperbaric oxygen therapy do occur, they may include:
- Severe pain and pressure in the sinuses, and possibly bleeding into the sinuses (“sinus squeeze”)
- Ear injury, such as pain and ruptured eardrum
- Pain and cracking of the teeth, in patients who have had recent dental work (“tooth squeeze”)
- Collapsed lung (pneumothorax), which is more common in patients with asthma or emphysema
- Seizures due to oxygen toxicity
- Chest pain, difficulty breathing, and respiratory failure (pulmonary oxygen toxicity)
- Decompression sickness (“the bends”)
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