Girl and mother reading a book inside hyperbaric oxygen chamber

Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy

Hyperbaric oxygen chambers are medical devices that require Food and Drug Administration (FDA) clearance. Within the chamber, air pressure is increased to three times normal pressure. Under these conditions, the lungs are able to absorb up to three times more oxygen for use in fighting injury or illness. Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT) is a well-established treatment for decompression sickness, a hazard of scuba diving, but there are more than a dozen FDA approved uses of HBOT, and many other ailments are showing promising results in clinical trials.

What is HBOT and Why is it Beneficial​

Inside the hyperbaric oxygen chamber – a pressurized tube that looks like a larger version of one of the cylinders you'd use at the drive-thru of your bank – a patient breathes nearly 100% oxygen while experiencing pressure greater than sea level,” says The University of Kansas Healthy System. These days, patients can listen to music or watch television to relax while receiving the treatment. Benefits of HBOT include increased oxygen concentration in all body tissues, stimulation of new blood vessel growth in locations with reduced circulation, and improved white blood cell action, which helps treat infection.

Outpatient Treatment​

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is usually performed on an outpatient basis in a clinical or hospital setting. Treatments with pure oxygen typically last anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours, depending on the condition being treated. For maximum benefit, most conditions require more than one session. Many medical insurance companies cover FDA approved treatments.

FDA Approved Treatments​

Following are the official FDA approved uses of Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy:

  • Air or Gas Embolism
  • Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
  • Clostridial Myositis and Myonecrosis (Gas Gangrene)
  • Crush Injury, Compartment Syndrome and Other Acute Traumatic Ischemias
  • Decompression Sickness
  • Arterial Insufficiencies
  • Severe Anemia
  • Intracranial Abscess
  • Necrotizing Soft Tissue Infections
  • Osteomyelitis (Refractory)
  • Delayed Radiation Injury (Soft Tissue and Bony Necrosis)
  • Compromised Grafts and Flaps
  • Acute Thermal Burn Injury
  • Idiopathic Sudden Sensorineural Hearing Loss
  • Board Certified Provider(s) Limit Risk of Complication

    Though generally safe, mild side-effects of HBOT include fatigue, lightheadedness, and sinus-related issues. Rarely, there can be more severe complications, so choosing a board-certified provider is paramount. Your healthcare provider will consider any existing health problems, as well as your age and overall health before starting treatment, and the treatment plan will be tailored specifically to each patient. These steps help reduce the risk for side effects and complications.

    Other Complications Responding to HBOT​

    According to the Mayo Clinic, “To effectively treat other conditions, hyperbaric oxygen therapy is used as part of a comprehensive treatment plan and administered with other therapies and drugs that fit your individual needs.” Some other conditions treated with HBOT include serious infections, wounds that won't heal as a result of diabetes or radiation injury, brain abscess, or sudden and painless vision loss.

    An article in Medical News Today points out that more recently, HBOT “has been promoted as an alternative therapy for various conditions, from Alzheimer's disease to infertility.” Some are calling for “HBOT to be approved as an alternative therapy for autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), cerebral palsy, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).” Though HBOT shows potential to treat these conditions, it’s important to remember that they are not FDA approved yet.

    HBOT Traumatic Brain Injury Research

    The US National Library of Medicine at the National Institute of Health reports, “Clinical trials have been investigating the effect of HBOT on traumatic brain injury (TBI)…It is believed that HBOT can help to heal brain injury by improving the way dormant neurons function and stimulating the growth of axons.” This is a tremendous step forward for TBI research.

    The Crosby Clinic in San Diego, California, is a treatment facility that prides itself on remaining on the cutting edge of new treatments for brain injuries. According to their website, “Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is a great alternative when traditional medical practices are not adequate [sic] working. Oxygen is an essential part of the healing process, and without sufficient oxygen in the tissues in the brain, healing cannot take place.” In addition to head and brain injuries, the Crosby Clinic claims HBOT can be used to treat stroke and chronic fatigue, among other ailments. Again, HBOT is not FDA approved for treatment of these ailments, but open dialogue with your medical team is encouraged.

    HBOT as Part of Comprehensive Medical Treatment Plan

    ​Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy has many FDA approved uses for treatment of health conditions, and research shows numerous more are on the horizon. Remember to follow the direction and guidance of your physician(s) when choosing to explore HBOT as a treatment option. Failing to do so could be detrimental rather than beneficial to healing, and we must keep moving forward toward better health and wellness.