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What are the Pros and Cons of Hyperbaric Oxygenation Therapy?

By Rebecca Harkin
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Hyperbaric oxygenation therapy involves breathing pure oxygen while in a chamber maintained at a pressure greater than atmospheric pressure. Decompression sickness, carbon monoxide poisoning, wounds, osteomyelitis, skin grafts and burns can all be treated in this way. The disadvantages associated with this type of therapy are fluid accumulation, pain in the ears, temporary vision changes, exacerbated cataracts, possible rupture of the lungs, fatigue, and oxygen toxicity. The treatment is not yet widely accepted in the mainstream medical community, and getting a referral for it can sometimes be difficult. In addition, few hospitals have hyperbaric facilities, making it hard to get access to this treatment.

If the body depressurizes quickly, dissolved gases can come out of the blood as bubbles and, if left untreated, cause rashes, extreme pain, paralysis, or death. Hyperbaric chambers alleviate decompression sickness by forcing the bubbles to dissolve in the blood. Their use to treat carbon monoxide poisoning is still controversial, but some evidence suggests that this treatment may hasten the release of carbon monoxide by the blood. Some medical professionals feel that breathing pure oxygen at atmospheric pressure is sufficient to treat carbon monoxide poisoning.

The primary benefit of hyperbaric oxygenation therapy is its ability to increase the absorption of oxygen by the tissue, promoting healing. This explains why it is used to treat slow-healing wounds complicated by poor circulation, such as diabetic foot, diabetic retinopathy, skin grafts, and burns. Treatment also accelerates the healing of complicated infections including both osteomyelitis, a bone or bone marrow infection, and severe infections of the skin and muscle.

Health-related disadvantages are rare but can include pain or fluid in the ears, temporary vision changes such as nearsightedness, exacerbating a developing cataract, possibly rupturing a lung when the patient holds his breath or does not breathe normally, fatigue, and oxygen toxicity or oxygen intoxication, causing disorientation and breathing difficulties. Many of these symptoms are temporary and will dissipate in a few weeks. Access to a hyperbaric chamber may be limited because the mainstream medical community has not yet completely accepted the use of this therapy, making obtaining a referral difficult. Research on the uses of hyperbaric chambers is extremely costly and therefore fairly limited, further slowing its acceptance. While facilities are gradually growing in numbers, finding a local one can still be difficult.

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Discussion Comments
By anon1002232 — On Oct 04, 2019

I was overdosed with radiation when treated for prostate cancer and now have radiation cystitis which can lead to incurable prostate cancer. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is the only known treatment to have some success to heal the radiation sores. I'm very apprehensive, but hoping to begin treatment in the next couple of weeks, as no other alternative treatment is available. HBOT is recommended by the Radiation Cystitis Foundation.

By anon348931 — On Sep 21, 2013

Oxygen boosts our bodies in many ways. Simply taking slower deeper breathes increases the saturation of your oxygen from about 97 percent to 99 percent. Now submerge yourself into 100 percent oxygen, and your body is a happy highly functioning machine. Our bodies like higher levels of oxygen.

By anon335321 — On May 19, 2013

I'm sure Zsa Zsa is wrong about hyperbaric chambers. My 45-year-old son is currently being treated for diabetic necropsy through the use of this chamber.

By ZsaZsa56 — On Dec 22, 2011

Personally I think that all the hype hyperbaric chambers have been getting lately is just that, hype. In 20 years we will look back on them as a sports medicine fad.

The history of sports medicine is filled with wacky inventions that someone swore would make you bigger, faster and stronger. Inevitably somebody bought into them but almost all have fallen by the wayside. I think hyperbaric chambers will soon be there as well.

By whiteplane — On Dec 21, 2011

I have never been in a hyperbaric chamber, but enough elite athletes believe in it that I have to believe it does some good.

I would love to try it for myself but it is really expensive to buy one and its not like you can just go out and rent one.

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