Oxygen therapy is a treatment that gives you oxygen to breathe in. It’s also known as supplemental oxygen.
One type of oxygen therapy is hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT). It provides high concentrations of oxygen in a space with high air pressure.
The increased air pressure can improve the way your body takes up oxygen. This can help manage various conditions, including carbon monoxide poisoning, nonhealing wounds, and more.
In this article, we’ll discuss how HBOT works and what to expect during the treatment. We’ll also cover the benefits, possible side effects, and conditions it may help.
Your cells need oxygen to function. This is especially important during times of illness and recovery.
HBOT is a treatment that increases the amount of oxygen your body takes in. It involves sitting or lying in a machine known as a hyperbaric chamber.
The air in a hyperbaric chamber is 100% pure oxygen. Typically, the air we breathe is only 21% oxygen.
The air pressure in the chamber is also higher than usual pressure. This encourages the lungs to take up more oxygen. As a result, your tissues receive more oxygen, helping the body recover and manage health conditions.
- embolism, which involves air or gas bubbles in blood vessels
- carbon monoxide poisoning
- severe anemia
- decompression sickness due to diving
- severe or large burns
- crush injuries
- gas gangrene
- hearing loss without any known cause
- severe skin or bone infection
- skin graft flap with a high risk of tissue death
- vision loss due to blockage of blood flow
- nonhealing wounds, like diabetes-related foot ulcers
- radiation injury
Does hyperbaric oxygen therapy work for COVID-19?
According to the FDA, researchers are currently studying HBOT for COVID-19.
Specifically, it may be helpful for severe or long-term cases, also known as “long COVID.” It’s thought to help by increasing oxygen circulation and reducing inflammation.
However, there’s not enough research at this time to support HBOT for COVID-19. Experts need more research to determine its efficacy and safety.
The primary benefit of HBOT is the increase in oxygen uptake. This can help your body recover from certain health conditions.
The secondary benefit is the ability to manage oxidative stress. In HBOT, the increased oxygen produces reactive oxygen species (ROS) or unstable molecules. High levels of ROS can lead to oxidative stress.
But in HBOT, this process is more manageable. The ROS act as signaling molecules in processes involved in wound healing and recovery.
A medical professional must perform HBOT at an accredited medical facility. That’s because the therapy involves a large machine, which people can’t use at home.
Hyperbaric chambers can also accommodate one person or multiple people. The process depends on the type of chamber medical professionals use.
A monoplace chamber is for one person. It’s a tube-shaped machine tube containing compressed oxygen. A multiplace chamber can deliver HBOT to several people at once. It’s a room with multiple chairs.
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy steps
In general, HBOT includes the following steps:
- A medical professional will ask you to change into a hospital gown or scrubs.
- If you’re using a monoplace chamber, you’ll lie down in a tube-shaped machine.
- If you’re using a multiplace chamber, you’ll sit upright in a chair and wear a hood over your head. The hood will connect to a tube.
- Compressed air will move into the tube or hood.
- At the same time, the pressure in the chamber will slowly increase.
- The session will last about 2 hours.
- At the end of the session, the pressure will slowly decrease.
The number of sessions you need depends on your condition and how your body responds to treatment.
If you’re receiving HBOT for an emergency, like carbon monoxide poisoning, you might need a few sessions. If you’re treating a more chronic condition, you might need at least 30 sessions.
Your doctor can help you determine how many sessions you might need.
HBOT is usually safe when healthcare professionals use it for the conditions approved by the FDA. Serious side effects are typically uncommon.
However, the high oxygen and pressure involved in HBOT may present some risks. They can include:
- ear or sinus pain
- middle ear injuries
- temporary vision changes
- lung collapse, which is rare
High levels of oxygen can also cause a fire. That’s why it’s important to use FDA-approved chambers at an accredited facility. Off-label chambers typically cause fires and explosions.
HBOT requires a prescription from your doctor. They will likely recommend an HBOT clinic or hospital that they usually work with.
Another option is to search “hyperbaric oxygen therapy near me” on Google. This will help you find HBOT clinics in your area.
In most cases, health insurance will partially cover the costs for HBOT. This depends on the facility, your location, and whether your insurance provider considers the treatment to be medically necessary.
Before receiving HBOT, call your insurance provider to determine if they will partially or fully cover the treatment. They will likely check your doctor’s prescription and diagnosis of your condition.
You can also ask the medical facility if they have payment plans. This can make it easier to pay for the treatment.
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy provides supplemental oxygen in a space of increased air pressure. The high pressure forces your lungs to take in more oxygen, which increases your blood oxygen levels. Healthcare professionals perform this prescription therapy at an FDA-accredited facility.
The FDA has not approved HBOT for COVID-19 treatment yet. Researchers are still studying its efficacy and safety for the condition. However, the therapy can help treat many other conditions, including severe anemia and carbon monoxide poisoning. Side effects are also uncommon, but you can discuss them with your doctor.