A Patient’s Guide to Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy


What is hyperbaric oxygen therapy?

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is a medical treatment that is used to treat a limited but diverse series of illnesses. It may be the primary treatment for some disorders, but it is often used as part of a combined program involving antibiotics and surgery. To provide patients with hyperbaric oxygen therapy, a pressurized chamber is necessary. The patient is placed within the chamber, which is then compressed to the level ordered by the consulting hyperbaric physician, using pure oxygen.

Hyperbaric oxygen is a simple concept. The air we breathe contains 21 percent oxygen. Providing 100 percent oxygen by facemask without the use of a chamber has certain, limited, benefits. By providing pure oxygen in a pressurized chamber we are able to deliver two to three times that which can be provided by breathing 100 percent oxygen with no increase in pressure. This “hyperbaric” (or high pressure) dose of oxygen offers distinct therapeutic benefits.

How does hyperbaric oxygen therapy work?

When oxygen is delivered to a patient in a hyperbaric chamber the amount of oxygen that can be delivered to body tissues by the blood is greatly increased. All of the benefits provided by hyperbaric oxygen therapy are the result of this extra oxygen being carried within the bloodstream. There is really no benefit from the oxygen within the chamber in direct contact with wounds. This is the reason that your dressings will usually be left in place during the treatment.

What does hyperbaric oxygen feel like?

Hyperbaric oxygen treatments are normally painless. You simply lie comfortably and restfully in the chamber. You can listen to music, watch TV or nap if you wish.
You may experience a sensation of fullness in your ears during certain stages of the treatment. This is similar to the feeling you may experience while flying in an airplane or driving down a mountain as the eardrum responds to changes in pressure. As part of your introduction to the treatment you will be taught several easy methods to avoid ear discomfort.

Are there any side effects?

Generally patients experience no after effects from hyperbaric oxygen therapy. However, some patients report a “crackling” in their ears between treatments. You can relieve this in the same way you clear your ears during changes in pressure while in the chamber. If the crackling continues, please report this to a member of the Advanced Wound & Hyperbaric Medicine Center team. Some patients report feeling lightheaded for a few minutes following a treatment, but this is brief and the patients are able to continue with their normal daily activities.

Rarely patients having hyperbaric oxygen therapy develop temporary changes in eyesight. Studies have shown in these rare cases that any altered vision is of short duration and will return to its pre-treatment status within six to eight weeks after treatment ends.
Like all medical treatments and procedures, some risks are associated with hyperbaric oxygen therapy. These risks are quite rare and they will be discussed with you before you sign your consent form for therapy.

How many treatments will I need?

The number of treatments is individualized to each patient. Most wound healing problems may require 30 to 40 treatments. You will normally receive treatments once a day, five days a week.

A member of the Advanced Wound & Hyperbaric Medicine Center team will discuss your therapy treatment plan for before you start. The exact number of treatments will be determined by your response to hyperbaric oxygen therapy.

Do I need to make special preparations for hyperbaric oxygen therapy?

There are a number of preparations necessary before starting each treatment and these will be discussed with you in detail. The following information summarizes these preparations:

SMOKING AND CAFFEINE: Since tobacco and caffeine products constrict blood vessels and limit the amount of blood and oxygen that can be delivered to tissues, you should not use tobacco and caffeine products during your course of treatment.

MEDICATIONS: It is very important that you provide the Advanced Wound & Hyperbaric Medicine Center team with a complete list of medications, including non-prescription drugs that you are taking. Some medications change the body’s response to oxygen, and these will be discussed with you individually.

ILLNESS: If you experience the symptoms of a cold or the flu, such as fever, cough, sore throat, nausea, vomiting, headache, diarrhea, or generalized body-aches, please notify a team member as soon as possible. These symptoms may require a temporary delay in your treatment schedule. When your symptoms resolve, treatments may be resumed.

CLOTHING: Personal items are not permitted within the hyperbaric chamber. You will be provided with cotton garments to wear during therapy. Cotton is necessary in order to reduce the potential for static electricity. For this same reason, the following items are not allowed in the chamber:

  •  All air/chemically activated heat wraps such as ThermaCare®
  • Cigarettes, matches, and lighters
  • Jewelry and all metal objects
  • Hairspray and make-up
  • Perfumes, deodorant, shaving lotion
  • Oils/grease, including hair and skin products
  • Any battery-powered device, such as cell phones, hearing aids, etc.
  • Hair extensions and wigs

In addition, dentures and partial plates will be removed, and it may be necessary to remove contact lenses and glasses.

Lockers are provided for your clothing and other items. Please do not bring valuable items to the facility.