What is hyperbaric oxygen therapy?
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is a medical procedure used to increase the amount of oxygen reaching body tissue. This treatment is used to improve or speed up the healing and recovery process for diseased or damaged tissue.
Hyperbaric treatment can sometimes be the main treatment for certain conditions, but it is usually part of an overall plan of care, which may also include surgery, antibiotics and other therapies.
After treatment you will need to make an appointment with your referring doctor, who will be kept informed of your progress.
What conditions can be treated?
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy treatment can be used in the treatment of:
- wounds that are infected or do not heal
- diabetic ulcers (to prevent amputations)
- damage from radiation (for example, radiation therapy for cancer)
- gas poisoning (for example carbon monoxide poisoning)
How will I be assessed for treatment?
Your GP or specialist will refer you for hyperbaric oxygen therapy. Once your referral has been received by the hyperbaric medicine team, you will be contacted for an assessment appointment.
A hyperbaric medicine specialist will review your medical history and run a series of tests, which may include a chest X-ray, electrocardiogram (ECG) and hearing, eye and blood tests.
A hyperbaric nurse will explain how the treatment is administered and direct you to the hyperbaric medicine unit.
If you have a non-healing wound, a special test (trans-cutaneous oximetry test) which measures local skin oxygenation may be performed. This is painless and takes about an hour to complete. Wound photography may also be required to document the progress of wound healing.
Once you have been assessed and accepted for hyperbaric oxygen therapy, the specialist will prescribe you a course of treatment.
Multiplace (several people) or monoplace (one person) chambers are used in hyperbaric oxygen therapy. The hyperbaric treatment team will decide which chamber to use based on your condition.
- Continue your normal balanced diet. Do not stop eating before a treatment.
- Tell the doctor if you are taking any medications. This is important because some medications may change your body’s response to oxygen.
- Tell your doctor if you have a pacemaker. Some people with certain pacemakers may not be able to have hyperbaric oxygen therapy.
- If you are having treatment in a multiplace hyperbaric chamber, you will be fitted for an oxygen “hood” prior to your therapy.
Just before the hyperbaric oxygen therapy
You will be asked to change into non-static clothing that will be supplied to you.
The following items must not be taken into the treatment area for safety reasons:
- lighters or matches
- make-up, lipstick, lip salves
- hairspray, hair oil
- perfume, aftershave, cologne
- wigs, hairpieces
- hand or body cream, ointments
- nail polish
- nylon stockings
- watches and jewellery (except for wedding rings)
- hearing aids
- synthetic clothing
- contact lenses
- felt tipped pens
- electronic equipment including mobile phones.
It is important to follow safety precautions as 100 per cent oxygen is used during treatment.
Treatments usually last for 2 hours, once a day. The number and frequency of treatments vary according to the medical condition you are being treated for. However, it is common to have a course of 30 or more treatments (6 weeks).
If you are having therapy in a multiplace chamber
You will be seated in a large steel room where several people can be treated at the same time. A member of the hyperbaric team will come in with you.
Compression begins once the door is closed. In the chamber you will experience fullness in your ears, similar to the feeling you experience when descending in an aeroplane. This fullness is your eardrums responding to the change in pressure.
The hyperbaric staff member will assist you with various methods of clearing your ears. This will continue for a few minutes.
When the correct treatment pressure is reached, the fullness in your ears will stop. An oxygen hood will then be placed over your head, giving you 100 per cent oxygen. All you do then is breathe normally and relax. You will be able to read whilst wearing the hood.
If you are having therapy in a monoplace chamber
You will be asked to lie in a monoplace chamber, whch is a small clear enclosed space where you are treated on your own. A staff member is located near the chamber at all times.
During compression, you will experience a feeling of fullness in your ears. The same techniques are used to relieve this fullness as in the multiplace chamber.
During treatment in the monoplace chamber you will be able to watch TV or a DVD.
After hyperbaric treatment
At the end of treatment, the chamber is decompressed and you will feel a popping in your ears. Usually your ears will not require clearing.
If you develop the symptoms of a cold, flu or any other illness during your course of treatment, please notify the hyperbaric treatment team.
Side effects of hyperbaric oxygen therapy
Side effects are not common, but will be discussed by your hyperbaric doctor during their initial assessment.
Sometimes patients notice a change in their vision. This is usually temporary, lasting for about one month after treatment stops. It is suggested not to change your glasses prescription for up to three months after hyperbaric treatment. Please report any changes in your vision to the hyperbaric treatment team. In any case, your visual acuity will be checked by the hyperbaric team after each 10 hyperbaric sessions.
Costs of hyperbaric treatment
For an Australian patient in a public hospital in Western Australia:
- public patient – no cost to you unless advised otherwise
- private patient – costs can be claimed through Medicare and your health insurance provider (no gap)
For a patient in a private hospital or private imaging site in Western Australia – ask your doctor or the staff where you are having your test done.
Where to get help
- See your doctor
- Visit a GP after hours
- Ring healthdirect on 1800 022 222
Fremantle Hospital and Health Service
This publication is provided for education and information purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical care. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your healthcare professional. Readers should note that over time currency and completeness of the information may change. All users should seek advice from a qualified healthcare professional for a diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.