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Hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBO) is a medical treatment in which the entire body is under increased atmospheric pressure and the patient breaths 100% oxygen. This treatment is administered in a pressurized chamber. It is proven effective for a number of different medical and surgical conditions either as a primary treatment or in addition to other medical treatments such as antibiotics or surgery.
At the Hyperbaric Unit at Tufts Medical Center, we use a single person (monoplace) chamber. The chamber is approximately eight feet long and about 34 inches wide. Some facilities us a multi-place chamber and treat more than one person at a time.
Normally our atmosphere is exerting 14.7 pounds per square inch of pressure at sea level. This is equivalent to one atmosphere absolute (1 ATA). In this atmosphere, we breathe approximately 20% oxygen and 80% nitrogen. During HBO, the pressure is increased two or three times more than normal and you breathe 100% oxygen. Most patients are treated at two times the normal atmospheric pressure (2 ATA).
The combination of high concentrations of oxygen (100%) and increased pressure cause large amounts of oxygen to be dissolved in your blood and other tissue fluids. There can be as much as 10 to 15 times the usual amount of oxygen dissolved in your blood, which gets more oxygen to the rest of your body.
Many different problems have been shown to benefit from HBO. Some of the most common problems are non-healing wounds (especially in diabetics), osteomyelitis (bone infections), radiation injury to bone or soft tissue burns, decompression illness (bends) and carbon monoxide poisoning.
Once you are in the chamber and the door is closed, you will hear the oxygen begin to circulate, we will then start the gradual increase in pressure. This is called compression. There may be some warmth that you notice, but this is temporary. A nurse/technician will remain with you during the treatment, to adjust the rate of compression according to your tolerance and to coach you on how to relieve the “pressure sensation”, which you will feel in your ears. This feeling is similar to what you may have felt while traveling down a mountain, flying or scuba diving. We will coach you on how to clear your ears, but you may need to try several ways in order to find the most effective for you. Compression generally last 7 to 10 minutes, depending on how effectively you clear your ears.
When you have reached the prescribed pressure, the fullness in your ears will cease, and you may rest or sleep during the remainder of the treatment. You may also watch TV or listen to music during this time, which will be about 1.5 to 2 hours. The temperature in the chamber is similar to room temperature, but may be adjusted slightly.
Near the end of your treatment the nurse/technician will gradually decrease the pressure added at the beginning. This is the decompression phase. During decompression, you experience a “popping” sensation in your ears as a result of the changing pressure. This popping is a normal adjustment in your ears; similar to what happens when you are driving up a mountain.
Risk of Worsening of Near-Sightedness: (Myopia) After 20 or more treatments, especially if you are over 40 years of age, it is possible that you may experience diminution in your ability to see things far away. Understand that this is believed to be temporary and that vision usually returns to its pretreatment level about six weeks after the cessation of therapy.