All hyperbaric chambers for hyperbaric oxygen (HBO) therapy are pressurized vessels. These chambers come in several different versions but all deliver more oxygen to the body at greater than 1 atmosphere of pressure.
HBO therapy has two main components. First, it’s the administration of nearly 100% oxygen. Secondly, atmospheric pressure is brought to higher-than-normal levels. These two factors create a unique environment. It drives oxygen into the tissues and helps stimulate many critical processes in the body.
How much pressure is used in a hyperbaric chamber?
According to the Undersea & Hyperbaric Medical Society, hyperbaric therapy must be administered at a minimum of 1.4 atmospheric absolute (ATA) to be therapeutic.1 Because of this, simply being immersed in 100% oxygen does not qualify as hyperbaric oxygen therapy.
The maximum pressure for safe HBO therapy is 3 ATA. This level almost completely meets the tissue’s resting requirements for oxygen supply.2 This is why it can be such an excellent alternative when the body struggles to deliver oxygen via its normal pathways.
During your therapy, you’ll be coached by your hyperbaric therapist on “getting to pressure.” This involves comfortably popping your ears to help acclimate to the pressure. The experience is similar to driving up a tall mountain or climbing altitude in an airplane.
How long does hyperbaric oxygen therapy last?
Therapy lasts 20-40 sessions, administered daily. A single therapy session lasts around 1.5 to 2 hours.3 During each therapy, the patient has several “air breaks,” which adds to the therapy time. They breathe regular room air for a few minutes when prompted by the therapist. This helps reduce the risk of oxygen toxicity.
What types of hyperbaric chambers are there?
These are hard sealed tubes that house one person. They’re typically made of metal and glass and are a similar size to an MRI. The inside is a mattress that a patient can recline on or lay flat.
A patient getting therapy sessions in a monoplace chamber can spend their time watching movies or taking a nap. Because the entire tube is pumped full of oxygen, no fire hazard is allowed within the chamber. This includes electronics, paper products, clothes that may generate static, and most cosmetics. Each facility will have its own policy on what is allowed in the chamber.
The chamber is a large glass tube, allowing the facilitating hyperbaric therapist and patient to easily see each other. The patient and therapist will have the ability to talk with each other with an in-chamber telephone.
These chambers house more than two people in upright seats or recliners. Fellow patients and staff share the space during the treatments. The chambers are pressurized like a single monoplace tube, but not with pure oxygen. Patients in these receive oxygen through a tight-fitting mask, an endotracheal tube, or a hood.4
Patients prone to claustrophobia may fare better in the larger chamber. If a patient needs a constant infusion, a multiplace chamber can accommodate it better than a monoplace chamber. A staff member facilitating the therapy session typically accompanies patients in the chamber during their treatment session.
Because everyone experiences the same level of pressure, it may be harder to accommodate emergency and critical care. While each individual has their own oxygen stream, they all share the same pressure level. These units are also very large, and many facilities can’t house such large equipment. This often makes facilities with multiplace chambers more difficult to find.5
Another type of hyperbaric chamber is the “soft” chamber. It’s typically made of plastic and closes with a zipper. These chambers can be cheaper and more easily available.
However, a soft chamber is too soft to withstand a pressure of 3 ATA, like a hard chamber. This poses some fundamental issues with the therapy.6
- To appropriately drive oxygen into the tissues, the chamber’s pressure needs to be able to exceed the 1.4 ATA. A soft chamber cannot exceed that.
- The oxygen isn’t medical grade. While it is slightly above room air, it’s still less than receiving oxygen through an oxygen mask.
- Soft chambers are generally not used by healthcare facilities. These chambers are often sold for personal use. But oxygen therapy, particularly HBOT, has inherent risks. It’s best supervised by a trained healthcare professional. HBOT should not be attempted at home.
What types of conditions are treated using hyperbaric chambers?
The FDA currently has approved fourteen conditions for treatment with HBO therapy:1
- Air or gas embolism (large bubbles in your blood)
- Carbon monoxide poisoning
- Gas gangrene (a bacterial infection that results in gas that causes tissue death)
- Acute traumatic ischemias (tissue damage from having blood supply traumatically cut off). Some common examples include crush injuries and compartment syndrome.
- Decompression sickness (nitrogen bubbles in the tissue of the body)
- Arterial insufficiencies (arteries are not delivering blood supply appropriately). This can be involved in diabetes, venous stasis, and central retinal artery occlusion.
- Severe anemia (red blood cell deficiency) With a marked loss of red blood cells, the body struggles to transport oxygen to the tissues needing it.
- Intracranial abscess (a pocket of infected matter inside the brain)
- Necrotizing soft tissue infections (flesh-eating infections)
- Refractory osteomyelitis (a chronic bone infection that hasn’t responded to typical treatments)
- Delayed radiation injury (an injury that presents 6 months after the last radiation therapy). This can range from a breakdown in the skin to very limited saliva production.
- Compromised grafts and flaps. Grafts and flaps that do not take often do so because of inadequate oxygen supply.
- Acute thermal burn injury. These injuries are devastating to skin integrity and prone to infection.
- Idiopathic sudden sensorineural hearing loss (sudden loss of hearing that’s sometimes accompanied by vertigo)
Need HBO therapy in the Georgia state area?
Are you or your physician interested in including HBOT in your treatment plan? We’d love to hear from you. Fill out our contact form here, or give us a call at 770-422-0517.
[While the above is meant to inform, it’s not meant to replace the advice of a doctor that’s been able to assess your case. Please consult a physician if you have medical concerns.]