Hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) involves breathing 100% oxygen in a sealed chamber. This concentration is 5 times higher than the normal air we breathe. The chamber is also pressurized to create 1.5 to 3 times normal atmospheric pressure. These changes can improve blood circulation and the blood’s ability to deliver oxygen to the body.
Reasons for Procedure
This procedure has been used to treat many health problems, including:
- An air bubble (embolism) which gets into the circulatory system and blocks blood flow
- Decompression sickness
—which can occur when divers or miners come to the surface too quickly
- Carbon monoxide poisoning
- Wound healing, especially in those with poor circulation
- Radiation therapy
injuries following treatment for cancer
- Skin grafts, flaps, or
Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
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Problems from the procedure are rare, but all procedures have some risk. Your doctor will review potential problems, like:
- Mild discomfort
myopia, which can last for weeks or months
- Sinus damage, ruptured middle ear, or lung damage
Damage to the eardrum—
tympanic membrane perforation
Oxygen toxicity, which can cause
seizures, fluid in the lungs, or respiratory failure
Worsening symptoms or increased risk for lung problems in people with
or lung disease
What to Expect
Prior to Procedure
- Wear comfortable clothes.
- Bring a book or an activity that you can do in the chamber.
Description of the Procedure
You will lie down on a padded table, which slides into a tube. This is called a single-person chamber. In some cases, the chamber may be large, holding more than a dozen people.
A technician will gradually pressurize the chamber with 100% oxygen. You will be able to talk to this person.
While in the chamber, you will be instructed to:
- Relax and breathe normally.
- If your ears pop or you have discomfort, tell the technician. The pressure may be lowered.
- Swallow or blow with your nose pinched to relieve discomfort.
- After getting to the right pressure, place a clear plastic hood or mask over your head. This will deliver oxygen to you.
If you are at high risk for oxygen toxicity, you may be allowed to breathe regular air for brief periods.
Immediately After Procedure
Over a period of several minutes, the technician will slowly depressurize the chamber. You will likely have some ear popping and feel light-headed and tired. However, you should be able to go back to your daily activities. You may have more than one session over a period of several days.
How Long Will It Take?
½ hour to 2 hours
How Much Will It Hurt?
You will not have any pain. Your ears may feel full.
Average Hospital Stay
Unless you have another medical condition, you will be able to go home after HBOT.
In most cases, there is no special care after treatment.
Call Your Doctor
It is important to monitor your recovery. Alert your doctor to any problems. If any of the following occur, call your doctor:
- Discomfort or pain in your sinuses or ears
- Onset of seizures
- Vision problems
- Cough, shortness of breath, or chest pain
If you think you have an emergency, call for emergency medical services right away.
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy: A guide for patients and providers. University of Iowa Health Care website. Available at: https://uihc.org/health-library/hyperbaric-oxygen-therapy-guide-patients-and-providers. Accessed December 21, 2017.
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy for wound healing. Johns Hopkins Medicine website. Available at: https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/healthlibrary/test_procedures/neurological/hyperbaric_oxygen_therapy_for_wound_healing_135,44. Accessed December 21, 2017.
Recompression therapy. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/injuries-poisoning/injury-during-diving-or-work-in-compressed-air/recompression-therapy. Updated July 2017. Accessed December 21, 2017.
Last reviewed November 2018 by
EBSCO Medical Review Board
Marcin Chwistek, MD
Last Updated: 12/20/2014