This Is What You Need to Know About HBOT
Medically Reviewed by Dr. Nicole Avena

Are you curious about the potential healing powers of hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT)?

Here’s what you need to know about this innovative treatment.

What is Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy?

HBOT is a non-invasive treatment that involves breathing 100% pure oxygen in a pressurized chamber. With HBOT, your lungs can take in up to 3 times more oxygen than they do when breathing at normal air pressure.

This process mimics diving underwater, where individuals experience increased pressure on their bodies due to the weight of water above them. The higher air pressure forces more oxygen into your bloodstream, allowing it to travel deeper into damaged tissues to facilitate the healing process.

HBOT is used as both a primary and adjunctive treatment for various medical conditions, such as:

  • decompression sickness
  • carbon monoxide poisoning
  • extreme thermal burns
  • serious head injury
  • slow-healing wounds

How HBOT Works on a Cellular Level

Our body’s cells require oxygen to function properly and carry out various physiological processes such as tissue healing and energy production. Under normal circumstances, our lungs are responsible for supplying enough oxygen to our cells through the bloodstream. However, certain medical conditions or injuries may restrict blood flow and result in reduced oxygen delivery to tissues.

HBOT aims to address this issue by increasing the amount of oxygen available for our cells. Breathing pure oxygen at high pressures allows it to diffuse into all bodily fluids including blood plasma, cerebrospinal fluid, lymphatics and bone marrow.

Increased oxygen levels also may enhance tissue function while helping to repair existing damage caused by compromised blood flow or lack of adequate oxygen supply. This helps improve cellular function and may enhance the healing process.

History of HBOT

In one form or another, HBOT has been around for centuries. Here’s a brief history of HBOT:

  • What we now know of as HBOT was first discovered in 1662 when English physician, Nathaniel Henshaw, placed patients inside a pressurized steel container.
  • English chemist, Joseph Priestly, discovered oxygen in 1774.
  • Paul Bert, the “father of hyperbaric physiology,” noted possible toxic effects of hyperbaric oxygen on the CNS in 1878.
  • In 1937, hyperbaric oxygen was first used to help relieve decompression sickness in divers.
  • Hyperbaric oxygenation (HBO) was first used for burns in 1965.

Over the years, HBOT has evolved, and its use has expanded to different fields of medicine. With advances in technology and research, HBOT is now recognized as an effective treatment for several conditions.

Benefits of HBOT

One of the main benefits of HBOT is its ability to increase the amount of oxygen delivered to tissues and organs in our body.

This increase in oxygen levels can have numerous beneficial effects on our body’s healing process. It promotes new blood vessel growth (angiogenesis), which helps improve circulation to areas that are damaged or injured. The high levels of oxygen also stimulate stem cell production and activate these cells to assist with tissue repair.

HBOT is also known for its anti-inflammatory properties. By reducing inflammation, HBOT can help decrease swelling and pain and speed up the healing process. It also aids in clearing out toxins and bacteria from wounds or infected areas.

HBOT supports the body’s immune system by activating white blood cells, known as neutrophils, which help fight off infections and promote wound healing. This biological response helps fight infections, boost tissue repair mechanisms, and promote overall healing. These effects are especially beneficial for people with compromised immune systems or serious wounds.

One well-known application of HBOT is in treating carbon monoxide poisoning or smoke inhalation. HBOT’s increased levels of oxygenation can help remove carbon monoxide from red blood cells more efficiently than normal respiration.

Those with serious head injuries also may benefit from HBOT therapy. The high-pressure environment can help reduce brain swelling and provides vital nutrients needed for the brain to heal. This has been particularly effective for military personnel who’ve suffered concussions or other brain injuries.

What to Expect from an HBOT Session

Here’s a walkthrough of a typical HBOT session:

Before the Treatment

Before your scheduled HBOT session, your healthcare provider will give you instructions on what to do before the treatment. It’s important to follow these instructions carefully as they can affect the success of the therapy. You may be asked to avoid certain foods or medications that can increase your risk of bleeding or make you feel nauseous during the session. Your doctor also may ask you to wear loose-fitting clothes and remove any metallic objects from your body.

During the Treatment

On the day of your scheduled HBOT session, you’ll be taken to a room with a pressurized chamber commonly referred to as hyperbaric oxygen chamber. The chamber resembles a large tube. Before entering the chamber, your healthcare provider will go through all safety measures with you and answer any last-minute questions or concerns.

After entering the chamber, you’ll be given either a mask or a hood that delivers 100% pure oxygen. Once you’ve been sealed in, pressure inside the chamber starts gradually increasing until it reaches up to three times the normal atmospheric level. When maximum pressure is reached, which depends on the treatment protocol prescribed by your doctor, it will be maintained for about 60-90 minutes.

During this time, you can relax, take a nap, read a book, or listen to music. You may feel some discomfort in your ears like when you’re flying in an airplane; however, this sensation can be relieved by swallowing, yawning, or chewing gum. If at any point during the session you feel uncomfortable or overwhelmed, don’t hesitate to inform the helper in the room.

After the Treatment

Once the session is complete and pressure inside returns to normal levels, a trained healthcare professional will help you out of the chamber and go through post-treatment instructions with you.

Possible Risks of HBOT

HBOT is a safe and effective treatment for various medical conditions. However, as with any medical treatment, there are potential risks and side effects that patients should be aware of before undergoing the therapy. Here are a few:

Barotrauma: During an HBOT session, the pressure inside the hyperbaric chamber is increased, which can cause air or fluid to become trapped in certain parts of the body such as the ears, sinuses, or lungs. This can result in discomfort or pain in these areas.

Oxygen toxicity: Although oxygen is crucial for life, it also can have harmful effects if inhaled in high concentrations for an extended period. Symptoms of oxygen toxicity may include blurred vision, ringing in the ears, nausea, dizziness, and seizures.

Claustrophobia: Patients who have a fear of enclosed spaces may experience worry or panic while inside the hyperbaric chamber.

Fatigue: Since HBOT sessions typically last for 60-90 minutes and require patients to breathe continuously through a mask or hood, this may lead to fatigue during and after the session.

Headache: A small percentage of patients may experience headaches during or after their first few HBOT sessions due to changes in blood vessel size caused by increased pressure and oxygen levels.

Temporary worsening of symptoms: Some patients may experience temporary worsening of their symptoms immediately following an HBOT session before they start noticing improvements.

Is HBOT Right for You?

HBOT has been used for many years to treat various medical conditions and continues to gain popularity. Its ability to increase oxygen levels in the body has been linked to numerous health benefits, making it a valuable option for patients seeking alternative treatments.

However, since there are potential risks and side effects associated with the therapy, it’s recommended that you work closely with your doctor or healthcare provider to determine if HBOT is right for you.


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These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. This content is for informational purposes only. It is not meant to substitute for medical or healthcare advice from a physician, nor is it intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. Consult your healthcare provider before beginning a new health regimen.

Keith Rowe