Here’s how many people have turned a chamber of stress into a relaxation station.
Do you know what the most common complications of hyperbaric oxygen therapy are? While ear trauma, oxygen toxicity, and ocular effects are risks1…patients are often most concerned about claustrophobia. “I have to stay in the chamber for two whole hours?” “You mean once I’m in, I can’t get out by myself? Am I trapped?” “The chamber is only big enough for me? That sounds too small.” If you’ve had these thoughts when considering hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT), you’re not alone. Any health care therapy, especially ones with multiple treatments, can bring on the white-coat syndrome. And while hyperbaric oxygen therapy is not painful, a patient is sealed in the chamber, and it can only be opened by someone from the outside. Claustrophobia is an understandable concern. Let’s talk about the process, and ease some common concerns.
Your hyperbaric oxygen therapy consult
Before HBO therapy is even considered, you’ll have a consult with a hyperbaric doctor. Even if your doctor recommends or prescribes HBO therapy, you’ll always have the choice to decline it for any reason. You’re in full control of your care. Talk to the HBO specialist about your concerns during your consultation. If this appointment is at the hyperbaric facility, you’ll likely be able to tour the room with the chambers. After seeing the chambers in person, many patients are relieved to see that the sides are completely transparent. Many patients also report that the chambers are bigger than they expected. The “tube” part of the chamber is around 8 feet long. Its diameter is about 3 feet wide.1 That makes these single monoplace chambers roughly half the size of the average car (which is 6ft wide). You’ll have more room in the hyperbaric chamber than you would in the driver’s seat of your car. During a consultation, the doctor will discuss all the details of your HBO treatment. Claustrophobia is a common concern, so the doctor may even beat you to the punch to discuss it. And the doctor won’t consider HBOT an option if you’re confident you could not tolerate it due to claustrophobia.
Preparation and your first treatment
If you decide to move forward with HBO therapy, you’ll have plenty of time to prepare. The hyperbaric technician that’s overseeing your treatment will not rush you into your first therapy. The technician will explain exactly what it’ll feel like, how to relax, and how to comfortably clear your ears. You’re encouraged to voice any of your concerns before, during, and after your treatment. If you want to talk to your tech to relieve some anxiety, your technician is ready to listen. If the facility allows, you may also be able to bring a support person.
During your treatment
To get into the chamber, you’ll lay on the chamber’s slide-out bed. This bed can lay flat or reclined—it’ll stay in one position throughout the therapy. The reclined position is the most popular. Once you’re ready to enter, the technician will slide the bed into the chamber and shut the door. The chamber is then ready to be pressurized. As you get to pressure and do your ear-clearing, you can count, take sips of water, close your eyes, and talk to your technician.2 You’ll be in constant communication with your technician the entire time you’re in the chamber. They’re required to stay nearby at all times. You’ll never be left alone. To get their attention, wave or tap on the glass. They’ll pick up a telephone receiver attached to the chamber that allows them to hear you. You can then talk normally. Your therapist will also let you know when the chamber is at pressure, and when it’s time to take an air break, and when the therapy is wrapping up. Many people find their sessions in a hyperbaric chamber to be very relaxing. It’s an opportunity to rest, take a nap, or watch TV. While space is designed for one person, it’s not as confining as many people fear. You also don’t have to remain still, like with an MRI. You can change positions and shift around to get comfortable. The chamber, other than the door and base, are transparent, which significantly reduces many people’s anxiety. You’ll be able to see your therapist, the TV, and the surrounding room.
I have claustrophobia, but I still want to do HBO therapy. What can I do to manage stress?
- Feel prepared. Ask all the questions you need. HBO therapists are happy to answer your questions. Check out our other blog that walks through what a full HBO session is like.
- Don’t eat too much before your treatment. Also, stay away from caffeine, carbonated beverages, and heavy food. This will help you avoid nausea.
- Enter the chamber with the things you need. Because of the fire risk, what you can bring into the chamber is very limited. However, you’ll be allowed to bring a urinal if you’re worried about needing to use the bathroom in the chamber. If you get cold easily, let your therapist know beforehand, and they can send you into the chamber with an extra blanket. If you’re nervous about throwing up, but still want to continue with your therapy, your HBO technician can provide an emesis basin to take in the chamber with you.
- Plan your session’s activities. Your options will be limited to napping, resting, or watching TV. But you can make the most of this by planning what you’d like to do. If you’d like to nap, look forward to your block of time for rest. If you’d like to watch something, visit your favorite channels or bring a movie that you like. HBO therapy has lots of treatment sessions—it’s the perfect time to watch a string of movies you’ve been looking forward to, or revisit a movie or show you like.
- Know you’ll never be trapped. Your therapist is constantly with you…and they will always have a backup. Even if your therapist needs to use the restroom, a replacement will take over your care before he or she will leave. Other therapists will also check on your therapist.
- Remember that you always have a choice to stop the treatment. Even if you’re in the middle of a session, you can let the therapist know you need to stop your treatment. It will then take about 10 minutes to bring you to a pressure that is safe to exit. Your therapist won’t demand that you “get over” your claustrophobia to get through a session.
- Know your hyperbaric team trains for the worst so you can have the best outcomes. Your therapists have regular drills. Everything from fires to in-chamber emergencies gets reviewed. Codes and regulations are maintained to ensure your dive will be safe, every time.3
Feeling less claustrophobic and more open to HBOT?
If you or your doctor has considered HBO therapy for your plan of care, we want to make the process as easy as possible. No concern or question is irrelevant. Put your mind at ease by taking some time to talk to our therapists today. We can be reached at (770) 422-0517. Reference:
[This article is not medical advice and should not replace the doctor’s assessment, diagnosis, or plan of care. Practices may vary from facility to facility. Please speak to your doctor or HBO physician if you have questions about health concerns or HBOT.]