What is it?
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) accelerates the body's natural healing process by increasing the amount of oxygen in the blood. Treatment takes place in a sealed chamber where oxygen and pressure are steadily increased.
Why is it done?
Body tissue needs a sufficient amount of oxygen in order to function properly. Tissue that is injured requires even more oxygen in order to heal. Many difficult-to-heal wounds are “hypoxic” (deprived of oxygen). Hyperbaric oxygen therapy speeds up the healing process by delivering oxygen to these injured areas.
Furthermore, hyperbaric oxygen therapy is:
- Low risk
- Life and limb-saving
Originally used for decompression sickness and other diving complications, hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) now treats a wide range of conditions, including life-threatening emergencies. HBOT is not designed to replace proven methods, but to enhance the effectiveness of treatment such as surgery, antibiotics and wound care.
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is officially approved by the Undersea Hyperbaric Medical Society to treat the following:
- Radiation tissue damage (following cancer therapy)
- Gas embolism
- Carbon monoxide poisoning
- Gas gangrene
- Crush injury/compartment syndrome
- Decompression sickness (the bends)
- Arterial insufficiencies (e.g., central retinal artery occlusion)
- Severe anemia
- Brain abscess
- Necrotizing soft tissue infection (e.g., flesh-eating bacteria)
- Swelling of bone tissue (osteomyelitis)
- Compromised skin flaps and grafts
- Acute thermal burn injury
- Sudden sensorineural hearing loss
Indications that are approved by the Undersea Hyperbaric Medical Society are usually covered by insurance. When you call for an appointment or your doctor refers you, we will verify your insurance coverage.
What to Expect
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy occurs in a sealed, pressurized room. You can lie down or sit upright. A customized oxygen breathing hood is placed over your head. Oxygen is fed through the breathing hood until oxygen level is at 100 percent (the air we breathe only contains 21 percent oxygen). Simultaneously, the pressure surrounding your body is slowly increased above normal atmospheric pressure.
The combination of pure oxygen and increase of pressure forces the oxygen to enter your blood faster and more efficiently. Thus, oxygen level in your blood is raised higher than could be achieved at normal air pressure. This extra oxygen is carried through your bloodstream and delivered to your body tissues.
How Many Sessions Will I Need?
The number of sessions needed depends on your condition as well as your response to treatment. Some emergency treatments (e.g., carbon monoxide poisoning) may only need a few sessions while others (e.g., diabetic foot ulcer) may require more than 30 sessions.
The average hyperbaric oxygen therapy session is two hours long.
Preparing for Treatment
Our hyperbaric medicine team will review the following information in detail with you to ensure that you’re properly prepared for each treatment session.
Products and Medications to Avoid
Substances like caffeine and tobacco shrink blood vessels and restrict the amount of blood that can be delivered to your tissues. Therefore, during your treatment it’s recommended that you avoid caffeine and tobacco.
Some medications can affect the way your body responds to oxygen. Before receiving hyperbaric treatment it’s important that you discuss any and all medications you’re currently taking.
For Your Safety
A spark or flame can quickly turn into a fire in a pure oxygen environment. While only a small area of the chamber is filled with pure oxygen (your breathing hood), we still restrict certain items from entering. This includes:
- All metal objects (e.g., jewelry)
- Matches and lighters
- Vaseline or any other petroleum-based products
- Personal electronic devices
Most skin care products are petroleum based, so please check with the hyperbaric unit staff before using any lotion or other product prior to treatment.
You will be given hospital scrubs to wear during your treatment to reduce the potential for static electricity.
The Hyperbaric Chambers
The Encinitas hyperbaric chamber is designed with comfortable recliners, and both the Hillcrest and Encinitas hyperbaric chambers have view ports. During treatment, you can read books and magazines, watch TV or listen to music.
The chambers are large and can treat multiple people at one time. A certified hyperbaric technician or emergency medical technician will be with you inside the chamber at all times.
Emergencies are handled at Medical Offices North in Hillcrest. These include:
- Carbon monoxide poisoning
- Gas embolism
- Diving complications
- Necrotizing injuries
- Failed skin grafts
Non-emergencies can be treated at either the Multi-Specialty Clinic in Encinitas or the Hillcrest location, depending on your preference.
Complications are rare, as hyperbaric oxygen therapy is generally a safe procedure, especially when performed under UC San Diego’s expert supervision. However, side effects from increased air pressure and hyperoxia (excess oxygen in body tissue) do arise on occasion.
The most common side effect is middle ear barotrauma, a condition that can cause discomfort and possible damage in the central area of the eardrum. Prior to treatment, our hyperbaric technicians will show you techniques to equalize the air space between sinuses and the middle ear (e.g., yawn and swallow).
- Organ damage
- Oxygen toxicity
- Joint pain
- Ear injuries (e.g., eardrum rupture, leaking fluid)
- Brief myopia (nearsightedness)
Some conditions and/or symptoms may make you unsuitable for hyperbaric treatment.
- Seizure disorder
- High fever
- Severe cough
- Gas in the lung (e.g., pneumothorax)
Our certified hyperbaric medicine team will be with at all times to ensure your safety and comfort.