Hyperbaric oxygen therapy
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy uses a special pressure chamber to increase the amount of oxygen in the blood.
Some hospitals have a hyperbaric chamber. Smaller units may be available in outpatient centers.
The air pressure inside a hyperbaric oxygen chamber is about two and a half times higher than the normal pressure in the atmosphere. This helps your blood carry more oxygen to organs and tissues in your body.
The other benefits of increased pressure of oxygen in the tissues may include:
- More and improved oxygen supply
- Reduction in swelling and edema
- Stopping infection
Hyperbaric therapy can help wounds, particularly infected wounds, heal more quickly. The therapy may be used to treat:
- Air or gas embolism (a bubble that gets trapped in a blood vessel and blocks it)
- Bone infections (osteomyelitis) that have not improved with other treatments
- Crush injuries
- Carbon monoxide poisoning
- Certain types of brain or sinus infections
- Decompression sickness (for example, a diving injury)
- Gas gangrene
- Necrotizing soft tissue infections
- Radiation injury (for example, damage from radiation therapy for cancer)
- Skin grafts
- Wounds that have not healed with other treatments (for example, it may be used to treat a foot ulcer in someone with diabetes or very bad circulation)
This treatment may also be used to provide enough oxygen to the lung during a procedure called whole lung lavage, which is used to clean an entire lung in people with certain medical conditions, like pulmonary alveolar proteinosis.
Treatment for long-term (chronic) conditions may be repeated over days or weeks. A treatment session for more acute conditions such as decompression sickness may last longer, but may not need to be repeated.
You might feel pressure in your ears while you are in the hyperbaric chamber. Your ears may pop when you get out of the chamber. This is similar to what happens when you dive and come up or when you ascend and descend on the plane.
Lipnick MS, Van Hoesen KB. Diving medicine. In: Broaddus VC, Ernst JD, King TE, et al, eds. Murray and Nadel's Textbook of Respiratory Medicine. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2022:chap 107.
Lumb AB, Thomas C. Oxygen toxicity and hyperoxia. In: Lumb AB, ed. Nunn and Lumb's Applied Respiratory Physiology. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2021:chap 25.
Marston WA. Wound care. In: Sidawy AN, Perler BA, eds. Rutherford's Vascular Surgery and Endovascular Therapy. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2019:chap 115.
Review Date: 7/31/2022
Reviewed By: Denis Hadjiliadis, MD, MHS, Paul F. Harron, Jr. Professor of Medicine, Pulmonary, Allergy, and Critical Care, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA. Also reviewed by David C. Dugdale, MD, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.