Frequently Asked Questions
About Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy

Patients in the United State receive over 100,000 hyperbaric treatments every year, yet this widely-used medical treatment is often misunderstood. Here are answers to some common questions.

 Click the questions to see answers about hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT).

General questions about hyperbaric oxygen therapy

A:  Hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) has been an accepted medicial treatment for decades. Some conditions, like decompression sickness, are closely associated with the origins of HBOT. Others, like sensorineural hearing loss, are recent additions to the list of approved conditions.

A: The hyperbaric oxygen story only begins with undersea medicine. Besides decompression sickness, or “the bends”, the Undersea and Hyperbaric Medical Society (UHMS) recognizes about 13 diseases and conditions for which physicians may prescribe hyperbaric oxygen therapy. Please see the HyperbaricLink directory of Diseases and Conditions treated with hyperbaric oxygen therapy for more information.

A: Yes, but keep in mind that in many cases where medical practitioners make bold claims about the benefits of hyperbaric oxygen therapy there is little clinical evidence that it is effective. If your condition is similar to one of the approved conditions in the HyperbaricLink directory of Diseases and Conditions there is a better chance it will provide a lasting benefit, but if you have a neurological condition you may only experience temporarily symptomatic relief.

A: It all depends on your condition, insurance policy, and documented medical need. See the directory of Diseases and Conditions treated with hyperbaric oxygen therapy for a list of approved conditions. These are generally reimbursable by private insurance, Medicare and Medicaid. Check with your insurance company about treatment for off-label conditions.

Questions about the treatment experience

A: Yes. Many wound care clinics use hyperbaric chambers with clear acrylic walls. Others use multiplace chambers large enough to hold a number of people. Take a look at Hyperbaric Chamber Types for more information on types of chambers used at hyperbaric treatment centers. The directory of Hyperbaric Treatment Centers lists the type of chambers used at participating treatment centers.

A: Standard treatments range from 1.5 to 3.0 atmospheres. Normal atmospheric pressure is 14.696 pounds per square inch, so the pressure in the chamber will be somewhere between 22 and 44 pounds per square inch. It is about the same pressure as being between 17 and 68 feet underwater.

A: The pressure in the chamber is increased gradually. The change feels similar to ascent and descent on an airplane ride. You might feel your ears pop. Patients report all kinds of other effects and feelings during treatment.

A: Most treatments last between about an hour and and hour and a half.

A: That depends on the type of chamber, but probably not. A monoplace chamber accommodates a single patient and the entire chamber is filled with oxygen no mask or hood is required. In multiplace chambers the chamber is pressurized with standard air and oxygen is delivered to patients with a hood or mask, usually a hood, which is transparent soft plastic and rests on the patient's shoulders. Masks are used in limited circumstances.

A: Probably not. In any case you will have the assistance of the medical staff. Monoplace chambers use a special gurney system to slide patients in and out of the chamber. Multiplace chambers vary in how patients move in and out, but many have full-size doorways at floor height so wheelchairs and gurneys can be moved directly into the chamber.

A: The right clothing is important for your comfort and safety, so the treatment center staff will provide you with garmets to wear during your treatment. You will also be asked to remove your wristwatch, jewelry, and undergarmets containing metal. The staff can provide a blanket you can use in the chamber during treatment. Fabrics that generate static electricity can pose serious danger in a highly oxygenated environment, so these are important safety precautions and you should fully comply with staff instructions regarding clothing, personal items, and safety.

A: No. Electronic devices pose a serious safety hazard. For your own well being, comply completely with instructions from the staff regarding electronic devices.

Questions about medical conditions treated with hyperbaric oxygen

A: It's highly unlikely. Some practitioners make bold claims for HBOT, but in many cases there is no evidence to support the use of HBOT for “off-label” conditions.

A: Some say it’s because investigators find it difficult to design good experiments with double-blinded study and control groups. Others say it’s because there’s no deep-pocket pharmaceutical company or government agency to fund expensive human clinical trials on HBOT. It could also be because the healthcare consumer and patient advocate groups have not been given a loud enough voice.

Questions about hyperbaric treatment centers

A: While the specific answer depends on the condition being treated, insurance, complicating medical problems, and other factors, there is no reason for you to automatically prefer one type of treatment center over another. Outpatient and independent treatment centers can meet the same standards of practice as hospital-based facilities. Let your medical professionals be your guide to the most appropriate venue for your treatment.

A: The HyperbaricLink Treatment Center Directory is a good place to start. Provider profiles will list facility accreditations, institutional affiliations, and physician and equipment certifications. Accreditation by the Undersea and Hyperbaric Medical Society and The Joint Commission is an indication that the treatment center has met the highest standards of practice. The UHMS educates its member clinicians and inspects and accredits select provider facilities. There are also many other reputable providers which have not chosen to undergo the accreditation process.

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Updated: 03 Sep 2015 12:35 PM
Created: 13 Jun 2009 12:00 AM
By: About the authors »