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Hyperbaric Oxygen (HBO) Therapy

The Hyperbaric Oxygen (HBO) Program at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital provides unsurpassed levels of care in a setting where your health and comfort are foremost.

What is HBO therapy?

HBO therapy provides 100% oxygen (compared to the 21% oxygen found in room air) in a chamber with increased pressure. The pressurized air inside the HBO chamber can be compressed up to three times the pressure found at sea level (similar to diving underwater down to 66 feet). This combination of high pressure and pure oxygen increases the concentration of oxygen in bloodstream, which permeates deep into body tissues to help promote healing.

What conditions can benefit from HBO therapy?

Originally, this treatment was used to help divers who developed decompression sickness from surfacing too quickly, commonly called "the bends." The treatment is still used to treat decompression sickness, but it was discovered HBO was beneficial to help treat other conditions, including:

  • Wounds: HBO therapy provides extra oxygen to support the growth of new blood vessels that replace vessels damaged by diabetic ulcers, radiation injury, soft tissue damage, and chronic, nonhealing wounds.
  • Carbon monoxide/cyanide poisoning: HBO therapy forces toxic gasses out of the blood stream and provides extra amounts of oxygen to help damaged tissues recover more rapidly. The rapid removal of toxins can help prevent neurological disorders caused by toxicity.
  • Infections: HBO therapy augments the body's ability to kill bacteria in wounds such as gas gangrene (clostridial myonecrosis) or bone infections.

Other conditions: Depending on the condition, HBO therapy may be beneficial in conjunction with other treatments. Our team of doctors will work with your physician to develop the best care plan for your optimal health.

Will I need any special tests prior to beginning HBO therapy?

HBO therapy requires a chest X-ray prior to starting treatment. Other diagnostic tests may be required to determine if HBO therapy is appropriate for you (e.g., a transcutaneous oxygen measurement, bone scan, or magnetic resonance imaging [MRI]). Any additional testing will be determined on an individual basis.

How will I feel during HBO therapy?

HBO therapy is generally painless. You can sit or recline comfortably during the treatment in a large glass covered chamber while resting or watching television.

You will notice a sense of fullness in the ears at the beginning and end of treatment as the pressure is adjusted. This sensation is similar to that which is felt when flying in an airplane or diving under water. You will be taught a simple technique to relieve ear pressure and avoid any discomfort. Some patients will hear a crackling noise in their ears between treatments, which can be relieved using the same technique. If the crackling noise persists, it should be reported to the staff.

Some patients may feel light-headed after treatment, which is usually very brief.

Are there any adverse effects associated with HBO therapy?

Some patients may develop changes in eyesight (e.g., temporary nearsightedness [myopia] caused by the increased blood oxygen levels). In these cases, vision should return to pretreatment status eight weeks after the completion of treatments. There are other less common adverse effects, which will be discussed before treatment begins. Continuous supervision and monitoring during treatment are provided by a multidisciplinary staff of registered nurses and respiratory therapists.

How many treatments will I need?

You may require several treatments. The number will depend on your specific condition and response to HBO therapy. In general:

  • Emergency conditions are treated with 1 to 10 treatments during the first week.
  • Long-standing infections and other wounds may need 20 to 60 treatments over the course of several weeks.
  • Patients in the hospital will receive treatments once or twice daily.
  • Outpatients will receive treatments once daily, five days per week.

Which types of insurance is accepted?

We accept most insurance plans. Prior to treatment, insurance precertification will be obtained. We are not able to treat conditions that are not authorized by your insurance carrier. HBO therapy must be prescribed by a physician for a specific condition.

What are the Dos and Don'ts to follow during the course of treatment?

For your comfort and safety:

  • HBO may interact with some medications. Your physician will need a complete list of all your current medications, including those available without a prescription.
  • Before your treatment, notify the HBO therapy center staff if you have cold or flu symptoms. Often, it's best to delay treatment until symptoms subside.
  • Remove the following immediately before entering the chamber:
    • Dentures or partial dental plates.
    • All jewelry and other personal items. (Each day you will be provided with special 100% cotton garments to wear during your treatments.)
  • Do not bring any valuable items with you.
    • Although lockers are available for clothing and other items, we recommend that you leave valuables at home.
  • Oxygen is highly flammable. It is hazardous to have other flammable substances inside the HBO chamber. Do not bring any flammable substances with you: cigarettes, matches, cigarette lighters, etc.
  • Do not use any tobacco products.
    • Hyperbaric oxygen is not effective in smokers and can even be counter-productive because of the side effects of nicotine.
  • Do not use oil- or alcohol-based grooming products before entering the chamber. (Hairspray, makeup, perfume, or aftershave should not be used.)

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