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Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy: Uses, Benefits, Side Effects

The benefits of hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) have been observed since the 1930s. During that time, the US military used it to treat decompression sickness, a condition caused by diving in deep water. Since then, hyperbaric chambers have been approved to treat 13 conditions, and doctors are working to add more to the list.

Key Points:

  • Hyperbaric oxygen therapy can complement and encourage faster healing in many conditions, such as abscesses, autism, depression, bone infections, stroke, concussion, anoxic brain injuries and others.
  • HBOT may also be effective in reducing the physical signs of aging by increasing collagen production and telomere length.
  • A typical HBOT session will last from 3 minutes to 2 hours depending on the severity of your condition.
  • The treatment can be repeated daily for up to 4-6 weeks for best results.
  • Consult your doctor to see if you could benefit from hyperbaric oxygen therapy and to learn more about your treatment options.

Ongoing research on HBOT has shown promising results in many other settings. There are currently 216 clinical trials that are ongoing or have been completed on the efficacy of HBOT for various health conditions. In this article, you will learn about the benefits of hyperbaric oxygen therapy and what conditions it is used to treat.

What is hyperbaric oxygen therapy?

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy offers benefits for many conditions providing the body with extra oxygen at elevated pressure levels . It is particularly useful since everything in our body relies on oxygen to function properly.

The air we breathe consists of only 21% oxygen, the other 78% is nitrogen. In a hyperbaric chamber, the oxygen levels increase in 100% . To enhance the therapeutic benefits of pure oxygen, hyperbaric chambers they also increase the air pressure in your body by 2-3 times the normal levels .

HBOT treatments can last from 3 minutes to 2 hours, not counting the time needed to equalize the pressure in the chamber. For most conditions, it will need to do between 20-30 treatments over 4-6 weeks .

Benefits of hyperbaric oxygen therapy

As more research is done, doctors are beginning to use HBOT to treat an increasing number of conditions. Some studies have shown that hyperbaric oxygen therapy used for cancer can inhibit cancer growth and can make chemotherapy and radiation treatments more effective .

Current studies on the use of hyperbaric oxygen therapy for treatments of autism, depression and PTSD have also shown promise. The benefits of hyperbaric oxygen therapy are also useful for these conditions:

  • Air or gas splashes
  • Bone infections
  • Brain abscesses
  • Burns
  • Carbon monoxide poisoning
  • Diabetic wounds
  • Decompression sickness
  • Flesh-eating bacteria
  • Gangraina
  • Radiation injuries
  • Severe anaemia
  • Severe inflammation
  • Skin graft
  • Sudden deafness
  • Traumatic brain injury

The healing of wounds

One of the most common uses of hyperbaric oxygen therapy is for treating wounds that are resistant to other methods of care . These injuries include radiation injuries, diabetic injuries (especially diabetic foot injuries), traumatic surgical wounds, abscesses, bone infections, gangrene and injuries caused by flesh-eating bacteria.

Most of these injuries affect the body's immune system, which inhibits the body's ability to fight infection. HBOT acts by infusing your body's white and red blood cells with oxygen, which helps stimulate their action . This helps to start the healing process.

Increased blood flow and circulation

Other benefits of hyperbaric oxygen therapy include that it can help increase blood flow and circulation by diffusing excess oxygen into the plasma. Although the process constricts blood vessels in the body, it makes the blood cells themselves significantly more efficient.

Because the plasma and blood cells in the body are hyper-oxygenated, they can carry oxygen through the circulatory system much more efficiently . This has also been shown to have a positive effect on the central nervous system and provides the brain with more oxygen than it would otherwise receive.

Reduced pain and swelling

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy has been used to help patients recover from strokes, concussion and anoxic brain injuries . Patients showed significant improvement in cognitive function, verbal skills and memory recall after HBOT.

The treatment works increasing oxygen circulation and capillary growth in damaged areas of the brain . This allows the body to heal damaged blood vessels and tissues and may be able to reduce cell necrosis after a stroke.

Improved hair growth

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy benefits hair growth after hair transplantation or hair restoration procedures . The treatment helps to improve oxygenation in the blood vessels which helps to improve collagen production.

In turn, this promotes hair follicle growth in addition to reducing the appearance of scars, blemishes and bruising that may occur as a result of surgery. In patients with alopecia, studies have shown that HBOT can significantly reduce itching and bursitis .

Treatment of depression

Almost 280 million people worldwide experience depression , accounting for 3.8% of the population. Recently, hyperbaric oxygen therapy has been used for symptoms of depression and is thought to have an impact on neurotransmitters.

In addition, when combined with SSRIs, hyperbaric oxygen therapy may help to stimulating serotonin production by repairing damaged neurons in the brain . This is done by increasing the flow of oxygen to the affected areas which can help activate stem cell function.

Anti-aging effects

A recent study on the effects of hyperbaric oxygen therapy and ageing revealed that hyperbaric oxygen therapy benefits skin health . The study found that there were skin benefits that included increase in collagen density, elastic fibre density and the number of blood vessels after 1-2 weeks of HBOT.

A separate study showed a 20% increase in telomere length after 30 sessions of HBOT, which strongly suggests the potential for anti-ageing benefits. Although more research needs to be done to determine the extent of these benefits, the science behind them is promising.

Possible side effects of hyperbaric oxygen therapy

When treated in a controlled and approved treatment centre, the side effects of hyperbaric oxygen therapy are rare and usually mild . Complications become more common if the treatment lasts longer than 2 hours or if the internal chamber pressure is three times higher than the external pressure.

Typical side effects of hyperbaric oxygen therapy include temporary changes in vision that may cause myopia, fatigue, dizziness, ear popping and pain in the sinuses. Rarely, more serious complications may occur due to the intense pressure in the chamber that can cause lung damage, rupture of the eardrum or oxygen poisoning.

Depending on the reason for treatment, most patients will be able to resume normal activities after HBOT. For some, hyperbaric oxygen therapy may cause ear problems for a short period of time.

Contraindications to treatment with hyperbaric oxygen

Although most patients tolerate HBOT and benefit from the treatment, certain conditions may make HBOT more dangerous . If you have any of the following conditions, be sure to consult your physician before treatment.

  • Pneumothorax
  • COPD
  • Bronchial Asthma
  • High fever
  • Epilepsy
  • Sinus or ear problems that prevent equalization of pressure in the chamber
  • Pregnancy
  • Claustrophobia
  • History of ophthalmic surgery
  • History of thoracic surgery
  • Diabetes mellitus
  • Implanted devices such as defibrillators, epidural pain pumps, etc.

The contraindications listed above are not absolute, with the exception of pneumothorax due to increased pressure on the lungs. Many of these conditions will assessed on a case-by-case basis to determine the risk of the treatment versus the benefit of the treatment.

Final thoughts

Although hyperbaric oxygen therapy is not suitable for everyone, it can be beneficial for certain conditions. It is important to you are completely honest with your doctor about your medical history and inform him/her of any changes in your health on the day of the operation.

As HBOT continues to become a more widely accepted method of treatment for more common health conditions, your doctor may advise you to try it. Research continues to prove HBOT's effectiveness, although there are still dozens of studies underway.

Weigh the benefits and risks of treatment with your provider and be sure to research the treatment centre you choose before treatment.


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  9. National Biotechnology Information Centre. The effect of hyperbaric oxygen therapy on the pathophysiology of skin aging: a prospective clinical trial.
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  18. National Biotechnology Information Centre. The effect of hyperbaric oxygen therapy combined with hair transplant surgery for the treatment of alopecia.


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