Hyperbaric oxygen treatment is a medical intervention in which patients breathe 100% oxygen while inside of a pressurized chamber.  While inside of the "hyperbaric chamber," the atmospheric pressure is increased and patients are able to use more oxygen than would be possible at normal atmospheric pressure.  This oxygen is carried throughout the body to help fight infections and speed up the healing process. 

In my hospital, the order for the hyperbaric oxygen treatment is written by the physician, but the respiratory therapist and nurse fulfill the order.  The respiratory therapists run the hyperbaric chamber and the nurse stays with the patient in the event of an emergency or need for medication administration.

Who Needs Hyperbaric Oxygen Treatment?

There are a variety of ways in which we can treat wounds and other medical conditions in the hospital.  In my experience, the hyperbaric chamber is not a common treatment for patients with chronic issues.  I have seen it performed a couple of times on patients who had severe carbon monoxide poisoning.  Patients may be candidates for hyperbaric oxygen treatment if they have the following conditions:

  • Anemia, severe

  • Brain abscess

  • Bubbles of air in your blood vessels (arterial gas embolism)

  • Decompression sickness from scuba diving

  • Diabetes-related wounds

  • Carbon monoxide poisoning (this is the most common reason I have seen for hyperbaric oxygen treatment in the ICU)

  • Chronic ulcers

  • Crushing injury

  • Deafness, sudden

  • Gangrene

  • Infection of skin or bone that causes tissue death

  • Necrotizing fasciitis

  • Radiation injury

  • Skin graft or skin flap at risk of tissue death

  • Thermal burns

  • Vision loss, sudden and painless

  • Wounds that are slowly healing

Potential Risks

The hyperbaric chamber seems like a great solution for increasing the rate at which wounds heal.  Despite this, there are always risks with any type of medical intervention we perform. According to the Mayo Clinic, potential risks associated with hyperbaric oxygen therapy include the following:

  • Temporary nearsightedness (myopia) caused by temporary eye lens changes

  • Middle ear injuries, including leaking fluid and eardrum rupture, due to increased air pressure

  • Lung collapse caused by air pressure changes (barotrauma)

  • Seizures as a result of too much oxygen (oxygen toxicity) in your central nervous system

  • In certain circumstances, fire — due to the oxygen-rich environment of the treatment chamber

Other relevant articles include:


Mayo Clinic

Hopkins Medical

AuthorCourtney Tracy