Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy

Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT) involves inhaling purified oxygen from within a chamber that is sealed and pressurized at up to three times the normal atmospheric pressure. The hyperbaric chamber was first developed by Orville Cunningham in the early 1900s after he observed improvements in the health of people with heart disease after exposure to lower altitudes. It has since been used for a number of applications by the military and medical community.

HBOT is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for the treatment of gangrene, decompression sickness, brain abscesses, and tissue injuries where there is oxygen deprivation. It is also commonly used in severe carbon monoxide poisoning, bone and brain infections, osteomyelitis, anemia, and other injuries, wounds, and skin infections.

HBOT has been shown to be effective as an adjunct therapy for osteoradionecrosis where delayed bone damage occurs as a result of radiation therapy often associated with cancer treatment regimens, and is believed to be useful in treating soft tissue injuries also caused by radiation, although no evidence exists that has proven HBOT can cure cancer.

Uses of Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy

Purported alternative uses for HBOT are highly controversial and include reducing allergy symptoms, destroying harmful microorganisms, treating chronic fatigue syndrome, and treating cancer. Some proponents additionally claim that hyperbaric oxygen can heal sports injuries, relieve arthritis, and treat a host of other diseases and medical conditions including AIDS, multiple sclerosis, autism, cirrhosis, cerebral palsy, gastrointestinal ulcers, senility, Lyme disease and stroke, although these claims remain unsupported by scientific evidence.

To ascertain whether or not HBOT has value for many of its claimed uses, controlled scientific studies are currently being undertaken to determine if it is effective in treating a variety of conditions, including lymphedema which often results from modified radical mastectomy or from irradiation or removal of lymph nodes.

The Procedure

When undergoing HBOT, a patient may be placed in a single-person tube or share a larger chamber with a group. The chamber is slowly pressurized and slight discomfort may occur or the ears may pop, but as the pressure is adjusted symptoms typically abate. It is not unusual to feel drowsy or lightheaded at the conclusion of the session, which should last no more than two hours.

Side Effects

Although considered relatively safe for medical purposes, some side effects and serious complications have been known to occur such as headaches, fatigue, claustrophobia, middle ear rupture, injury to the sinus cavity, lung damage, seizures, oxygen toxicity, worsening of congestive heart failure, and respiratory failure. Doctors do not recommend delaying or replacing standard cancer treatment with hyperbaric oxygen therapy.


American Cancer Society