A hyperbaric oxygen (HBO) chamber delivers oxygen to patients at a concentration and pressure greater than it is normally present in the atmosphere. During treatment, as the pressure increases, the patient must equalize or pop his or her ears frequently. If the patient is unable to do so, ear tubs may be inserted that equalize automatically.

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is typically used to treat decompression sickness in deep sea divers. Decompression sickness, also known as The Bends, occurs when divers ascend too quickly from deep in the ocean, causing a nitrogen gas building up in the body and releasing too quickly, causing severe pain and the potential for serious injury. In addition to scuba divers, aviators, astronauts, and high-compressed air workers are at risk for The Bends.

Symptoms of decompression sickness include:

  • Pain in the joints or muscles
  • Fatigue
  • Itchy skin
  • Shortness of breath
  • Numbness
  • Pain or tingling in limbs
  • Rash
  • Muscle weakness or paralysis
  • Tremors
  • Collapse or unconsciousness

In addition to treating decompression sickness, hyperbaric oxygen chambers are used to treat carbon monoxide poisoning and gas gangrene. More recent research has also shown that HBO therapy may be an effective treatment for noise-induced hearing loss, chronic ulcers, cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, and radiation injury.


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