What is hyperbaric oxygen therapy?

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is a treatment for oxygen-deprivation diseases and conditions, including decompression illness, non-healing wounds, and carbon monoxide poisoning. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy, also known as HBOT, increases the amount of oxygen in your blood. It helps your blood carry more oxygen to your organs and tissues. 

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy involves breathing 100% oxygen in a pressurized chamber or through a pressurized mask or hood.

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is only one method of treating oxygen-deprivation diseases, disorders and conditions. Discuss all of your treatment options with your doctor to understand which options are right for you.  

Why is hyperbaric oxygen therapy performed? 

Your doctor may recommend hyperbaric oxygen therapy to treat the following diseases, disorders and conditions:  

  • Blood and vascular problems including peripheral arterial insufficiency and severe anemia from blood loss when blood transfusions are not an option
  • Certain serious infections including gas gangrene, necrotizing (dying) soft tissue infection, brain abscess, and osteomyelitis (bone infection)
  • Decompression sickness including “the bends,” which affects scuba divers who surface too quickly and extreme mountain climbers, astronauts, and fighter pilots who climb too quickly
  • Gas embolism including air or gas bubbles in the blood
  • Injury including crush injuries, compartment syndrome (increased pressure in the muscles), reattachment of severed limbs, and severe burns
  • Non-healing wounds including diabetic foot ulcers and compromised (failing) skin grafts and tissue flaps
  • Poisoning or toxic inhalation including carbon monoxide poisoning, cyanide poisoning, and smoke inhalation
  • Tissue damage due to radiation including soft tissue damage and osteoradionecrosis (bone damage)

Who performs hyperbaric oxygen therapy?

A doctor who specializes in undersea and hyperbaric medicine supervises hyperbaric oxygen therapy. An undersea and hyperbaric medicine doctor specializes in treating acute and chronic oxygen-deprivation diseases and conditions. A specially trained nurse, respiratory therapist, or technician often performs the procedure.

How is hyperbaric oxygen therapy performed?

Your hyperbaric oxygen therapy will be performed in a hospital or outpatient setting. It generally includes these steps:

  1. You will lie on a padded table that will slide you into a clear, tube-like hyperbaric chamber (monoplace hyperbaric chamber for a single person). Some treatments involve a multiplace (multiperson) chamber. Patients walk or are wheeled into a multiplace chamber.
  2. Your technician or nurse will gradually increase the sealed monoplace hyperbaric chamber pressure with 100% oxygen. In a multiplace chamber, you will breathe the pressured oxygen using an individual hood, mask or ventilator. 
  3. You will relax and breathe normally until the treatment is over. Treatments take 30 minutes to two hours.
  4. The monoplace chamber or your multiplace hood or mask is slowly depressurized. Then, the table slides you out of the monoplace hyperbaric chamber or you exit the multiplace chamber. 

Will I feel pain with hyperbaric oxygen therapy?

Your comfort and relaxation is important to you and your care team. You may feel ear popping or mild discomfort, which should pass if the pressure is reduced for you. Tell your technician or nurse if you have pain, are uncomfortable in any way, or feel anxious or claustrophobic in a monoplace hyperbaric chamber. 

What are the risks and potential complications of hyperbaric oxygen therapy?  

Side effects of hyperbaric oxygen therapy are generally mild, but complications can occur and become serious in some cases. Risks and potential complications of hyperbaric oxygen therapy include: 

  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Myopia (nearsightedness), which is usually temporary
  • Oxygen toxicity, pulmonary edema, and respiratory failure
  • Pneumothorax (collapsed lung)
  • Ruptured middle ear
  • Sinus damage
Reducing your risk of complications