What is hyperbaric awareness
What is hyperbaric medicine

What is Hyperbaric Medicine?

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy

is a medical treatment that involves breathing pure oxygen in a pressurized environment. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is a well-established treatment for carbon monoxide poising and decompression sickness, a potential risk of scuba diving. Other conditions treated with hyperbaric oxygen therapy include serious infections, bubbles of air in your blood vessels, sudden sensorineural hearing loss and wounds that may not heal as a result of diabetes, radiation injury, or a compromised flap or graft.

In a hyperbaric oxygen therapy chamber, the air pressure is increased two to three times higher than normal air pressure. Under these conditions, your lungs can gather much more oxygen than it would be possible breathing pure oxygen at normal air pressure. As your blood carries this extra oxygen throughout your body, this helps fight bacteria and stimulate the release of substances called growth factors and stem cells, which promote healing.

How does hyperbaric oxygen therapy work?

Pure and pressurized oxygen helps promote wound healing in several ways. Oxygen is normally concentrated in our red blood cells, but through HBOT, oxygen is dissolved into other bodily fluids (like plasma) and then transported to areas starved for oxygen. This process:

  • Reduces tissue swelling by flooding cells with oxygen
  • Promotes formation of new blood vessels, connective tissue, and skin cells
  • Prevent reperfusion injury (tissue damage) by encouraging natural oxygen radical scavengers to seek out problem areas
  • Resists infection by blocking harmful bacteria and strengthening the immune system

What can HBOT treat?

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is perhaps most associated with diving injuries and

chronic wound healing,

but it’s a recognized as a safe and effective treatment for more than a dozen acute and chronic conditions*, from

diabetic foot ulcers to radiation injury.

  1. Decompression illness (sometimes called diving sickness)
  2. Carbon monoxide intoxication/poisoning
  3. Cyanide poisoning
  4. Gas embolism/air embolism (blockage of blood supply to a vital organ)
  5. Gas gangrene/myonecrosis (bacterial infection)
  6. Acute traumatic peripheral ischemia (tissue injury to an extremity caused by lack or loss of blood flow)
  7. Crush injuries/suturing of severed limbs
  8. Progressive necrotizing infections, such as necrotizing fasciitis (death of tissue caused by fast-spreading bacterial infection)
  9. Acute peripheral arterial insufficiency (which can lead to ulcers and other non-healing wounds)
  10. Compromised skin grafts/skin flaps
  11. Chronic refractory osteomyelitis (bone infection)
  12. Osteoradionecrosis (bone injury caused by radiation)
  13. Soft tissue radionecrosis

    (tissue damage caused by radiation)

  14. Actinomycosis (rare bacterial infection that causes sores and abscesses)
  15. Diabetic wounds of the lower extremities (ex: foot wounds)

Aside from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS)-approved conditions above, HBOT therapy is continually being researched as a viable treatment for a range of acute and chronic conditions.

(*You might hear or see these sometimes referred to as “indications” by those in the medical profession.)

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy


During an HBOT treatment, you enter a special chamber that allows you to breathe pure oxygen at a higher-than-average air pressure.

There are two types of chambers: monoplace and multiplace.

Monoplace chambers

are designed for one patient. The tube-like acrylic structure resembles an MRI machine, and oxygen is pumped into the chamber itself. In a monoplace chamber, you will typically lie down for your treatment.

Multiplace chambers,

 or sometimes multiplace rooms, are designed to treat two or more people at a time. Patients in these rooms breathe in oxygen through masks or hoods, and you can be treated while sitting or lying.

During your treatment, you might choose to nap, read, or watch a movie.
Many people ask if getting hyperbaric oxygen treatments hurt; there should be no pain associated with HBOT.

Because you’re in a pressurized chamber, you might experience fullness in the ears, similar to how you might feel on an airplane or other increased altitudes.

You might also experience a temperature difference; the room or chamber might get warmer as the air pressurizes.
When you leave the chamber, you could feel tired or lightheaded. Try to schedule your appointment at a day/time that will allow you to relax afterward.

Your ears might also feel full, which can be relieved by yawning or swallowing, much like you might do while on an airplane or after swimming.

Finally, you might also feel hungry after your treatment, so it could be a good time to treat yourself to a snack!
Your HBOT/wound healing treatment center will prep you for your first appointment. Typical advice includes:
  • Eat a balanced meal before you arrive
  • Avoid caffeinated and carbonated beverages
  • Refrain from smoking
  • Wear clean and pure cotton clothing
  • Do not use petroleum-based hair or skin products
An individual HBOT treatment session typically lasts from 90 minutes to two hours.

The amount of sessions you’ll need is highly dependent on your specific condition or injury. We often see people need between 10 and 30 treatments. It could be more or less than that based on your diagnosis and insurance coverage.
After your HBOT treatment you might experience some mild side effects, which could include:
  • Lightheadedness
  • Fatigue
  • Temporary vision changes
  • Drop of blood pressure
Some of the mild discomforts can be minimized or prevented by following the guidance of your provider, such as avoiding carbonated beverages before your treatment.
HBOT is widely recognized as a safe and effective treatment for a range of conditions, including healing chronic wounds. Complications are rare, but like any medical treatment or procedure, you should always speak to your primary care physician before seeking any type of medical therapy.

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy side effects could include pain or damage to the ears, sinuses, eyes, teeth, and lungs. In rare cases, too much oxygen in tissue could result in oxygen toxicity.
HBOT may not be suited for people who have recently had ear surgery or trauma to the ear, or for those with a history of tinnitus or recurring middle ear infections.

Again, always talk to your doctor before seeking any type of medical treatment.
Many insurance companies, including Medicare and Medicaid, will cover HBOT for approved conditions. It’s best to check your individual coverage to find out if you are eligible based on your individual circumstances.

For example, some insurances will cover HBOT as an adjunctive therapy for wound healing if there are no measurable results after 30 days of standard wound healing therapies.
Our Patient Resources section is full of blog posts from physicians, medical technology professionals, and other experts in the field. Explore more topics here.