Hyperbaric Medicine Frequently Asked Questions

CHI Franciscan Health and Praxis Clinical Services provide hyperbaric oxygen therapy at St. Joseph Medical Center. Below are the answers to some frequently asked questions about hyperbaric oxygen therapy.

What is hyperbaric oxygen therapy?
Hyperbaric oxygen (HBO) therapy was initially used to treat SCUBA divers suffering from the “bends.” Also known as decompression sickness, the bends is caused when a diver ascends to the surface too quickly for nitrogen to be released from his or her body.

With HBO therapy for decompression sickness, recompression is achieved as nitrogen bubbles are reduced in size or reabsorbed to ensure adequate blood flow.

What medical conditions are treated by hyperbaric oxygen therapy?
Over time, hyperbaric oxygen therapy has proven to be very effective in treating many diseases other than decompression sickness. It does not replace other reliable treatments such as surgery and medication, but is generally prescribed in conjunction with other therapies. For example, in the case of wound healing, HBO facilitates increased oxygen intake to create an abundance of oxygen in the body’s tissues, speeding repair of tissue damage.

Accepted indications for hyperbaric oxygen therapy encompass a wide range of medical conditions, including:

  • air or gas embolism (blocked arteries)
  • carbon monoxide poisoning
  • compromised skin grafts or flaps
  • crush injuries
  • cyanide poisoning
  • decompression sickness
  • diabetic foot wounds
  • gas gangrene
  • hard-to-manage infections (certain types)
  • non-healing osteomyelitis (bone infection)
  • non-healing wound
  • radiation necrosis
  • serious anemia caused by blood loss
  • soft tissue infections
  • thermal burns

How does hyperbaric oxygen therapy work?
Normally, the air we breathe is 21 percent oxygen. During HBO, the patient relaxes in a chamber while breathing 100 percent pure oxygen. The pressure surrounding the body is slowly increased to two or three times the normal amount. The increased oxygen increases the amount of oxygen carried through the blood. This abundance of super-oxygenated blood helps fight infection, decreases swelling and encourages growth of new vessels.

Are there any side effects to hyperbaric oxygen therapy?
The most common side effect to HBO treatment is a feeling of “fullness” or a popping sensation in the patient’s ears, which lasts only briefly. As with any medical treatment, there may be other side effects. Negative side effects are rare, and your doctor will discuss these with you in detail prior to treatment.

What can I expect from a hyperbaric oxygen therapy treatment?
There are three phases to an HBO treatment:

  • Compression - After the doors are closed, you will be able to hear the compression gas as it circulates throughout the chamber. You may feel a fullness in your ears, similar to what you might feel when you fly or drive in the mountains. During this process, an attendant sitting outside the chamber will communicate with you and adjust the speed of compression so it is comfortable.
  • Treatment - Treatment begins when the pressure reaches the prescribed level. During the treatment you may rest, sleep, listen to music or watch television.
  • Decompression - The attendant will let you know when the treatment is complete. The pressure will be lowered at a rate that is comfortable to your ears.

What do I need to know before a hyperbaric therapy treatment?
Prior to your first treatment, we will review the process with you to make sure you know what to expect.

Please do not to smoke before treatment. Tobacco products constrict blood vessels and inhibit the increased blood and oxygen delivery to the tissues. Please provide us with a list of all medications you take, including non-prescription drugs, as some of these may affect your body’s reaction to oxygen.

We will provide you with a cotton garment to wear during treatment, and a safe place to leave your personal items.