Hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) involves breathing 100% oxygen in a sealed chamber. This concentration is 5 times higher than the normal air we breathe. The chamber is also pressurized to create 1.5 to 3 times normal atmospheric pressure. These changes can improve blood circulation and the blood’s ability to deliver oxygen to the body.
This procedure has been used to treat many health problems, including: An air bubble (embolism) which gets into the circulatory system and blocks blood flowDecompression sickness
—which can occur when divers or miners come to the surface too quickly
Carbon monoxide poisoningWound healing, especially in those with poor circulationRadiation therapy
injuries following treatment for cancer
, flaps, or
Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
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Problems from the procedure are rare, but all procedures have some risk. Your doctor will review potential problems, like: Mild discomfort
, which can last for weeks or months
Sinus damage, ruptured middle ear, or lung damageDamage to the eardrum (tympanic membrane)
Oxygen toxicity, which can cause
, fluid in the lungs, or respiratory failure
Worsening symptoms or increased risk for lung problems in people with
or lung disease
Wear comfortable clothes.Bring a book or an activity that you can do in the chamber.
You will lie down on a padded table, which slides into a tube. This is called a single-person chamber. In some cases, the chamber may be large, holding more than a dozen people.
A technician will gradually pressurize the chamber with 100% oxygen. You will be able to talk to this person.
While in the chamber, you will be instructed to: Relax and breathe normally.If your ears pop or you have discomfort, tell the technician. The pressure may be lowered.Swallow or blow with your nose pinched to relieve discomfort.After getting to the right pressure, place a clear plastic hood or mask over your head. This will deliver oxygen to you.
If you are at high risk for oxygen toxicity, you may be allowed to breathe regular air for brief periods.
Over a period of several minutes, the technician will slowly depressurize the chamber. You will likely have some ear popping and feel light-headed and tired. However, you should be able to go back to your daily activities. You may have more than one session over a period of several days.
You will not have any pain. Your ears may feel full.
Unless you have another medical condition, you will be able to go home after HBOT.
In most cases, there is no special care after treatment.
It is important to monitor your recovery. Alert your doctor to any problems. If any of the following occur, call your doctor: Discomfort or pain in your sinuses or earsOnset of seizuresVision problemsCough, shortness of breath, or chest pain
If you think you have an emergency, call for medical help right away.
Gill AL, et al. Hyperbaric oxygen: Its uses, mechanisms of action and outcomes. QJM. 2004;97:385.
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy. American Cancer Society website. Available at:
http://www.cancer.org/treatment/treatmentsandsideeffects/complementaryandalternativemedicine/herbsvitaminsandminerals/hyperbaric-oxygen-therapy. Updated April 14, 2011. Accessed November 3, 2014.
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy. University of Iowa Hospital and Clinicswebsite. Available at:
http://www.uihealthcare.org/hyperbaricmedicine. Accessed November 3, 2014.
Recompression therapy. The Merck Manual Professional Edition website. Available at: http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/injuries_poisoning/injury_during_diving_or_work_in_compressed_air/recompression_therapy.html. Updated September 2013. Accessed November 3, 2014.
Last reviewed December 2014 by Marcin Chwistek, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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