What Is a Hyperbaric Chamber…And How Does One Work?

//What Is a Hyperbaric Chamber…And How Does One Work?

It’s not hyperbolic oxygen therapy or hyperbolic chamber, though they’re common mispronunciations. A hyperbaric chamber is a tank designed for administering pure oxygen at more than regular atmospheric pressure. Typically, it’s a tank made of glass and metal. These tanks can be monoplace or multiplace—that is, housing a single person or several people at a time.

Hyperbaric chambers are used for administering hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT). HBOT can be administered a few different ways: a mask or hood, a “soft” chamber,” or in a sealed (hard) chamber.1

A mask, hood, or “soft” chamber can be used when a patient’s circulation is intact. These methods increase a person’s inhaled oxygen, allowing them to take in more than would be regularly breathed through room air. However, they can’t be pressurized in the same way a hard chamber can.2 Most health problems requiring HBOT involve poor circulation. Because of this, HBOT with masks, hoods, and soft chambers have limited uses.

A “hard” chamber can be used when a patient’s vasculature (blood flow to tissues) is poor or damaged. In this case, a patient rests in a chamber while it’s filled with pure oxygen. The atmospheric pressure is then raised to 2-3 absolute atmosphere (ATA). For reference, normal atmospheric pressure is 1 ATA. This pushes oxygen into the tissue of the person from the outside.3

A chamber can also be used for health issues that require changing the atmospheric pressure around them for a certain length of time. This “depressurizing” can be used for patients suffering from the “bends.” This was one of the original uses of HBOT.4

The pressure-building process is very similar to deep-sea diving or descending in a submarine. An HBO specialist (nurse, doctor, or technician) monitors you during your therapy sessions. The HBO specialist remains with you during the entire therapy. To comfortably get to pressure, the specialist guides you in ear pressure-relieving techniques. They coach you through swallowing, taking sips of water, and gently blowing while pinching your nose.

Therapy sessions can be from 90 to 120 minutes long, not including air breaks. Patients generally require 20-30 treatments. The full course of therapy usually lasts several weeks.5

Inhaling pure oxygen brings the risk of oxygen toxicity. To help reduce this risks, HBOT sessions have “air breaks.” During these few-minute breaks, you will be able to wear a mask inside the chamber that provides room air.6

Can you use an oxygen mask instead of going into a hyperbaric chamber?

No. An oxygen mask will not do the same thing as a hyperbaric chamber. Oxygen via a mask will only get to your tissues through your bloodstream. If your bloodstream is compromised, the oxygen won’t make it to the needed area. Areas like exposed bone or crush injuries have a high need for oxygen, but few intact vessels to get it there. HBOT helps get oxygen to your tissues even if you don’t have circulation to the high-need areas.7

What can you take in the hyperbaric chamber?

Very little. Facilities limit what can be brought into the chamber due to the serious fire hazard. It’s similar to being inside an aerosolized can. Anything that could generate a spark or be fuel poses a risk for a fire. You can sleep in the hyperbaric chamber, or spend time watching TV. Many patients enjoy “taking it easy” and treat their HBOT like a break in the day.

Can you get fewer HBOT therapies than 20-30?

Generally, no. Like many therapies, HBOT is not a one-and-done. Repairing damaged tissue is a long process and not one that can be solved in a few days. Having fewer than the recommended therapy number may not be enough to help your health issue. However, if you struggle to tolerate treatments, your doctor will be happy to make adjustments to your care plan.

How long does it take to get up to pressure and come down from pressure?

It takes about 10-15 minutes to comfortably get to pressure. It takes about the same amount of time to get back to normal pressure. The specialist working with you will make sure you’re comfortable “diving down” and “coming up.” If there is an immediately life-threatening event, the process can be sped up substantially. This is only used in cases of extreme danger, such as the patient being on fire.

Can I do HBOT in a chamber if I have claustrophobia?

Yes, you can. Claustrophobia can affect some patients who do HBOT, but many report not having this issue.8 Others manage it by napping though their session. Chambers are mostly glass, allowing you to see your HBO specialist and the surroundings. During your consultation, the physician will discuss claustrophobia with you. Many facilities let you tour the chambers before committing to HBOT.

Can I use a soft chamber at home for cheap hyperbaric oxygen therapy?

Soft chambers are appealing when it comes to cost and convenience. But they’ve not proven nearly as effective as hard chamber therapy. The ATA can’t be raised high enough for effectively treating health problems requiring HBOT. They can even be dangerous without appropriate administration and monitoring.9 If you believe you would benefit from HBOT, put your therapy in the hands of professionals that would be happy to help you!

Are there common complications of hyperbaric oxygen therapy?

Complications can also come up if you have an ear infection, low blood sugar, or recent alcohol consumption. You might also experience some vision changes. The specialist will screen you before each dive for your safety. They’ll also assess you after each dive.

There is a risk of oxygen toxicity, but it isn’t common. If this occurs, it’s most often as a seizure.10 The HBOT specialist will be monitoring the treatment for signs of this, ready to intervene if needed.

Looking into hyperbaric oxygen therapy in Georgia, around Fayetteville, NC, or the San Francisco area? We would love to help.

Give us a call at 770-422-0517 for a consult, or book an appointment today!



[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 are having medical concerns.]

By | 2021-01-26T09:49:59-05:00 September 1st, 2020|Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy|0 Comments


During this pandemic, we will try and minimize risks to patients and staff. Guidance changes frequently, so we may need to change our recommendations over time.

We ask that all patients come into the office wearing a mask. Masks may be removed at the instruction of the staff for hyperbaric oxygen therapy.

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