Hyperbaric oxygen therapy: what is it?


Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is a treatment in which the patient is placed in an airtight chamber and exposed to pressurised air with very high concentrations of oxygen.

This results in higher levels of oxygen getting into the blood stream, which enhances the healing capacity of damaged tissues. Hyperbaric simply means more (hyper) pressure (baric).

What conditions can it treat?

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is routinely used to treat decompression illness (known as the bends) sometimes suffered by divers following too-fast an ascent from a dive. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy can be used as an adjunctive therapy for bone and soft tissue infections and wounds that are slow to heal. It is also an established treatment for carbon monoxide poisoning and radiation burns. In some parts of the United States, children who have suffered from brain injuries, either at birth or due to childhood accidents, are given hyperbaric oxygen therapy.

In Britain, many multiple sclerosis patients have used hyperbaric oxygen therapy to stabilise their condition.

How many sessions are recommended?

It depends completely on the condition being treated and ranges from two-three one-hour treatment sessions to 20-40 sessions.

How much does it cost?

One-hour sessions in the Dublin hyperbaric centre cost €100 per adult and €50 per child/old age pensioner. The hyperbaric chamber in Galway is currently used only for emergency diving accidents and carbon monoxide poisoning.

What are the side effects?

Pains in the ears are common while the chamber is being compressed. Users learn to clear their ears and swallow to prevent this happening. Sufferers of claustrophobia may find the conditions of the chamber stressful.

What are the contra-indications?

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is not recommended for sufferers of certain lung diseases such as emphysema.

Sylvia Thompson