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Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy FAQ

We encourage you to learn all you can about hyperbaric oxygen treatment before deciding if it’s right for you, or to prepare for your first treatment. The information below will answer many of your questions, and we encourage you to contact us to learn more.

Frequently Asked Questions

Click each question below for its answer:

Are there any side effects or after effects of hyperbaric oxygen treatment?

The most common side effects are related to the direct effects of the pressure change during compression on the middle eardrum. If not recognized and managed effectively, injury to the eardrum (tympanic membrane) can occur. Oxygen breathing at increased pressure may also produce acute toxic reactions that are reversible and usually preventable by adjusting the oxygen dosing schedule (should state that a patient may have a complication or an oxygen toxicity seizure and there is no true prevention of it). You and your physician will discuss the side effects and potential complications in detail prior to treatment.

How does hyperbaric oxygen treatment work?

Normally the air we breathe contains 21% oxygen. We’re surrounded by a column of air stretching from the surface of the earth to infinity, exerting a pressure we refer to as sea level pressure or one atmosphere of pressure. During hyperbaric oxygen treatment, 100% oxygen is breathed at a pressure greater than sea level pressure or greater than one atmosphere of pressure. This increases the amount of oxygen dissolved in the liquid portion of the blood (plasma) as much as 3-5 times over what is possible breathing oxygen at sea level pressure.

The resulting increased oxygen-carrying capacity is delivered to all tissues where there is sufficient blood flow, and produces a number of beneficial effects that improve the body’s elimination of certain poisons such as carbon monoxide, improve the body’s response to infection, and support tissue growth and wound healing.

What are hyperbaric oxygen treatments like?

Hyperbaric oxygen treatments include three phases: compression to the prescribed treatment pressure, the prescribed time at pressure, and decompression from the treatment pressure back to surface or atmospheric pressure. Because the pressure change associated with the treatment is similar to pressure changes while scuba diving, each treatment is called a “dive.”

Compression: During the compression phase patients feel a “fullness” in their ears similar to what is experienced during descent while scuba diving, or as a commercial airliner lands. This increase in pressure on the tympanic membrane or eardrum must be equalized by performing a valsalva maneuver or by swallowing or yawning. The temperature in the chamber also increases slightly during compression.

Treatment: The treatment phase begins when the pressure reaches the prescribed level. The patient breathes 100% oxygen with brief interruptions to breathe air to reduce the risk of any toxic complications to prolonged oxygen breathing. During the treatment patients may rest, sleep, listen to music, or watch television.

Decompression: During decompression, the pressure within the chamber is reduced to that at the surface. Decompression results in mild cooling. Once the chamber pressure equals the outside or surface pressure, the treatment is completed and the patient is removed from the chamber.

What is hyperbaric oxygen treatment?

Hyperbaric oxygen treatment was originally used to treat divers suffering from the “bends” or decompression sickness, but is now used to treat people with a variety of wound healing problems.

This treatment involves breathing 100% oxygen at a pressure greater than one atmosphere, which is the pressure of air at sea level. To accomplish this, a patient must be enclosed in a specially constructed chamber. Our treatments are administered in a monoplace hyperbaric chamber filled with 100% oxygen, which holds a single patient.

What is hyperbaric oxygen treatment used for?

The Undersea and Hyperbaric Medical Society’s Oxygen Therapy Committee has recommended hyperbaric oxygen treatment as beneficial for:

  • Air or gas embolism 
  • Decompression sickness 
  • Carbon monoxide poisoning 
  • Cyanide poisoning 
  • Crush injury, compartment syndrome, and other acute injuries 
  • Acute exceptional blood loss anemia 
  • Compromised skin grafts or flaps 
  • Thermal burns 
  • Other problem wounds complicated by lack of oxygen, specifically diabetic foot ulcers 
  • Necrotizing “flesh eating” soft tissue infections 
  • Gas gangrene: bacteria-caused mass tissue death 
  • Refractory osteomyelitis: bone infection that has not responded to appropriate treatment
  • Osteoradionecrosis: when bone is having difficulty healing after radiation therapy
  • Radionecrosis: soft tissue damage from radiation
  • Idiopathic sudden sensorineural hearing loss
  • Central retinal artery occlusion

Have more questions?

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Learn more about Wound and Hyperbarics at St. Luke's