What To Expect During Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT) Treatment
With the exception of decompression sickness and cerebral arterial gas embolism, treatments last approximately two hours. Treatments are given 5 days per week, unless otherwise indicated. The total number of treatments ordered depends on the diagnosis and the severity of each individual case. For some acute cases, treatment times are approximately ten days, while more chronic cases may require thirty or more treatments.
Hyberbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) may be administered in either an acrylic monoplace chamber or a multiplace chamber. While in the chamber you will breathe 100% oxygen while subject to increased atmospheric pressure.
The breathing of oxygen while in a pressurized environment stimulates the body mechanisms to promote healing.
There is very little sensation while undergoing HBO therapy. During pressurization, you will get a “fullness” buildup in your ears as a result of the pressure change. This feeling is similar to diving down to the bottom of a swimming pool, driving through the mountains or flying in a plane. The technician will show you how to relieve this fullness so that you can avoid discomfort during your treatment.
Once the treatment begins, you will hear a hissing sound as the chamber pressurizes. You may also notice a temporary increase in temperature during this compression. A technician will adjust the rate of compression according to your tolerance and coach you on relieving the full sensation in your ears. The compression phase of the treatment generally lasts about 10-15 minutes, depending upon how effective you are in clearing the pressure in your ears.
Once you are at the prescribed pressure in the chamber, your ear pressure sensation will go away. You should feel absolutely normal at this time. You may watch television, listen to music, sleep, or just rest during the remainder of the treatment. You can expect treatments to usually last about two (2) hours.
At the end of your treatment, the pressure will gradually decrease as the chamber ascends over a period of 10-15 minutes. During this decompression, you will experience a popping sensation in your ears as a result of the decreasing pressure. This popping is a normal adjustment of pressure inside your ears.
Generally, you experience no after-effects from HBO therapy; however, some patients report a crackling sensation in their ears between treatments. This may be relieved in the same manner as clearing your ears during compression. If the crackling should continue, please report this to the staff. Additionally, some patients report feeling light headed for a few moments following treatment, but the episode is brief, and the patients are soon able to continue with their normal daily activity. As with all medical procedures and treatments, there are some side effects that could result from exposure to hyperbaric oxygen. These are rare, but they will be discussed with you in detail before you sign your “Consent for Treatment” form.
Feel calm and confident for your first “dive”
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) is a time-intensive therapy in a confined space. It’s normal to be apprehensive of your first treatment. Here we’ll be discussing treatment in a monoplace chamber. That is a single chamber, rather than a shared one. Many people are worried about:
- Clearing their ears comfortably
- Being “stuck” in the chamber if there’s an emergency or they want to get out
- Preparing correctly
This article and your HBOT therapist will guide you through all these concerns.
What will hyperbaric oxygen therapy be like?
When you arrive for your treatment, you’ll meet with the HBOT therapist. You’ll then get to change from your clothes into a gown.
The therapist will then take your vitals and assess you. They may also take a blood sugar level, check your eyes, and assess your ears. They’ll also coach you through ear clearing techniques. This will help you accommodate the pressure comfortably during your treatment. Once you’re cleared and ready for your therapy, you’ll lay on the chamber’s bed. You may be given a bottle of water, a urinal, and an air mask. You don’t have to wear the mask yet. You’ll also be “ grounded” with a cord that will help lower the risk of static. It’s often worn as a bracelet.1
At this point, you’ll be slid on the bed into the chamber. Your therapist will then close the chamber, and begin bringing up the pressure. Rest assured, you can constantly communicate with your therapist during this whole process. It will take about 10 minutes to comfortably “get to pressure.” This means the pressure inside the chamber is at the prescribed level. Once you’ve arrived at that level, you’ll be able to relax, take a nap, or watch TV. Throughout your therapy, your therapist will instruct you when to take an “air break” to reduce your risk of oxygen toxicity. You’ll simply breathe through your air mask for a few minutes. The airflow in the mask is regular room air.
Once your therapy is finished, the therapist will slowly bring you down to the room’s pressure. Again, this will take about 10 minutes, and you will perform your ear clearing exercises. After you have gotten to the room’s pressure, the therapist will bring you out of the chamber and assess you again. You can then get dressed to leave.
What do you wear in the hyperbaric chamber?
You will only wear a 100% cotton gown, provided by the facility. Since this treatment is a hyperoxygenation therapy, it’s a serious fire hazard, so it’s important to reduce your risk of static electricity and sparking as much as possible.2 You may be able to wear 100% cotton undergarments if the facility allows. Other than that, you are more than welcome to arrive at the facility in whatever clothes are comfortable for you. It’s critical that you don’t enter the chamber with any grooming topicals, piercings, or removable items. You should not have any of the following on your person:
- Hairspray, hair gel, or mustache wax
- Perfume/ cologne
- A wig
- Hearing aids
- Eyeglasses or contacts
- Any jewelry
Your facility will have specific policies, and your therapist will frequently review what’s allowed in the chamber. If you arrive with an item that can’t easily be removed, your therapy may need to be canceled.
Can I bring my phone or book into a hyperbaric chamber?
No, but you’ll be able to take a nap or watch TV. Electronics and paper increase the risk of sparks and static. For you and the therapist’s safety, they’re not permitted.
Should I shower before my treatment?
Yes, showering is just fine. Just be sure not to apply any lotions, makeup, hair products, or perfume/ cologne after your shower.
What will happen if I get claustrophobic in the chamber and can’t stand it?
Before therapy is even considered, the therapist will discuss the possibility of claustrophobia with you. If you severely struggle with it and cannot see yourself tolerating the chamber, HBOT may not be considered at all. However, if you are in the chamber and cannot tolerate the therapy, you can let your therapist know immediately. They can bring you down to pressure and take you out of the chamber. If you would like to work through your claustrophobia to tolerate the therapies, your therapist will help you through anxiety-relieving strategies. The hyperbaric chambers are also made of glass, making space feel less confined.
Is there any reason I should cancel a treatment?
Yes, there are a few instances you shouldn’t complete your scheduled HBOT session.3 Call your facility and ask to verify. Be sure to let them know if you’ve had:
- An ear or eye surgery
- A sinus or upper respiratory infection
- An ear infection
- Low blood sugar
- Caffeine or nicotine use
- An implanted device
How will I be able to communicate with my therapist when I’m inside the chamber?
The HBO chambers have a telephone communication system. Your therapist will be able to pick up a physical receiver and talk with you. You’ll be able to speak normally. If you need their attention, wave or tap on the glass. Your therapist will be monitoring your therapy nearby and is ready to help at any point.
Does hyperbaric oxygen therapy hurt?
Normal HBO therapy should not be painful. There is a risk of lung or ear trauma, but this is why your therapist will transition your pressure slowly. They’ll also coach you with exercises that will ease ear pressure while you go up and down in pressure. This transition should not be uncomfortable. Patients describe the sensation as going up in an airplane or going down in a submarine. This is why HBOT sessions are frequently called “dives.” To comfortably adjust, your therapist will teach you various techniques to clear your ears, including:
- Taking sips of water
- Pinching your nose and blowing very gently
- Performing the Valsalva maneuver (bearing down)
What if I need to go to the bathroom while I’m in the chamber?
Before your therapy, you’ll have an opportunity to use the bathroom. You’ll also be given a urinal for your therapy since you will not be able to quickly exit then re-enter the chamber. For your privacy, the therapist can pull a curtain that will shield you from other patients. You’ll also have a blanket in the chamber with you for some additional privacy.
Can I eat or drink before HBOT?
You can eat a light meal 1 to 2 hours before your therapy. Don’t drink carbonated beverages at least four hours beforehand, and don’t drink caffeine. Some people experience nausea with their therapies. Avoiding a large meal or eating heavy food can help. If you are prone to or worried about vomiting in the chamber, your therapist can give you a chamber-safe emesis container to take into the chamber.
Ready for your first HBO therapy?
At Hyperbaric Physicians of Georgia, we’re ready to help you get the HBO treatments you need. If you or your doctor would like to talk about your care, give us a call at 770-422-0517. If you’re ready to set up an appointment, you can fill out our form here.