Complications of Hyperbaric Oxygen Treatment

Complications of Hyperbaric Oxygen Treatment

During hyperbaric oxygen therapy
(HBOT), you breathe pure oxygen inside a highly pressurized chamber. Often, pressure is
between 1.5 and 3 times greater than normal air pressure.

This therapy was used by undersea
medicine specialists to treat deep-sea divers who got decompression sickness (also called
“the bends.”) It’s now used to treat many conditions from severe burns to some types of
wounds, and carbon monoxide poisoning. But like all medical procedures, it has some

Side effects and possible complications of HBOT

During HBOT, you lie on a table in
an enclosed chamber. While you breathe oxygen, the pressure inside the chamber is slowly
increased. The therapy may last as little as 3 minutes or as long as 2 hours. Then the
pressure is returned to normal. Because the pressure is so high, some people may have
discomfort while in the chamber. You may have ear pain or a popping feeling in your

You may need to take short breaks
during the therapy and breathe normal air. This can prevent tissues in the body from
taking in too much oxygen.

The oxygen dose given during the
treatment is specific for each person. Your healthcare provider will consider any health
problems you have, as well as your overall health and your age. This helps reduce the
risk for side effects and complications.

Possible symptoms or side effects
after HBOT can include fatigue and lightheadedness. More severe problems can

  • Lung damage, including
    collapse of the lung

  • Fluid buildup or bursting
    (rupture) of the middle ear

  • Sinus damage

  • Changes in vision, causing
    nearsightedness, which usually goes away days to weeks after the last treatment

  • Oxygen poisoning, which can
    cause lung failure, fluid in the lungs, or seizures. Seizures from oxygen
    poisoning don’t typically cause brain damage

Side effects are generally mild as
long as:

  • The therapy doesn’t last more
    than 2 hours

  • The pressure inside the
    chamber is less than 3 times that of the normal pressure in the atmosphere

HBOT cautions

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is not
safe for everyone. In general, you shouldn’t get HBOT if you:

  • Have certain types of lung diseases, because of an increased risk for a collapsed lung

  • Have a collapsed lung

  • Have a cold or a fever

  • Have had recent ear surgery or injury

  • Don’t like small enclosed
    spaces (claustrophobia)

Precautions to take

The best way to avoid side effects and complications of HBOT is to be treated by certified and trained medical staff. Not many healthcare providers in the U.S. are board-certified in the field. The healthcare provider directing your therapy should have special training from the Undersea and Hyperbaric Medical Society. Ask to see his or her certificate of completion for the course.

Uses of hyperbaric oxygen therapy

Another way to prevent complications is to use HBOT only as intended. HBOT is used to treat many different health conditions including:

  • Carbon monoxide poisoning

  • Cyanide poisoning

  • Injuries from crushing

  • Gas gangrene, a form of gangrene in which gas collects in tissues

  • Decompression sickness

  • Sudden or traumatic poor
    blood flow in the arteries

  • Certain types of wounds

  • Skin grafts and flaps

  • Infection in a bone called osteomyelitis

  • Delayed radiation injury

  • Flesh-eating disease called necrotizing bacterial soft tissue infections

  • Air or gas bubble trapped in
    a blood vessel (air or gas embolism)

  • Long-term (chronic) infection called actinomycosis

  • Diabetic wounds that are not healing properly

Medicare, Medicaid, and many
insurance companies generally cover these procedures. But they may not cover it in every
case. Check with your insurance plan before you start treatment.