What you need to know about Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT)

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) involves the delivery of a high concentration of oxygen delivered in a pressurized chamber. This sends oxygen quickly and deeply into the affected areas of the body.The duration of each treatment, the number of treatments and the pressure used all vary, depending on the patient’s condition.

What does HBOT treat?

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is a well-established medical treatment. In May 2012, the Undersea and Hyperbaric Medical Society recognized the therapy as an effective treatment for the following 14 conditions:

  1. Embolisms (air or gas bubbles in the bloodstream, which may travel to the brain or lungs)
  2. Carbon monoxide poisoning (from inhaling smoke or car exhaust);
  3. Gas gangrene
  4. Crush injury, Compartment Syndrome and other acute traumatic problems where blood flow is reduced or cut off (e.g., frostbite)
  5. Decompression sickness (“The bends”)
  6. Enhancement of healing for wounds such as diabetic foot ulcers
  7. Exceptional blood loss (anemia)
  8. Intracranial abscess (an accumulation of pus in the brain)
  9. Necrotizing soft tissue infections (flesh-eating disease)
  10. Osteomyelitis (bone infection)
  11. Delayed radiation injury (e.g., radiation burns that develop after cancer therapy)
  12. Skin grafts and flaps that are not healing well
  13. Thermal burns (e.g., from fire or electrical sources)
  14. Sudden hearing loss (of unknown cause)

For an up to date list of all the conditions that have been proven to respond to HBOT, please following click here.

Who can safely provide HBOT?

Hyperbaric chambers are medical devices and require a license from Health Canada, which issues medical device licenses for hyperbaric chambers to treat only the 14 conditions listed above. No device licenses have been issued for the use of hyperbaric chambers to treat other conditions.

A Certified Hyperbaric Physician must either be on site while the HBOT is administered, or must be readily available.  It is physician’s responsibility to make the initial diagnosis, provide pre-treatment screening to ensure there are no medical reasons the treatment is not indicated and to prescribe the treatment profile (e.g., dive depth, pressure, time, etc.) In addition, the operator and attendant(s) must be properly trained and ideally have obtained credentials as a Certified Hyperbaric Technologist from the national Board of Diving and Hyperbaric Medical Technology.

Where is HBOT provided?

Traditionally, the administration of HBOT has been limited to specialized clinics based in hospitals, Canadian Armed Forces facilities and university research centres. More recently, however, there are an increasing number of private clinics in the community offering HBOT.

What type of treatment do Community HBOT clinics provide?

While HBOT is recognized as an effective treatment for the specfic conditions listed above, the operators of some private clinics claim it can also be used to treat such conditions as autism, multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, cancer, AIDS, stroke and migraine headaches. It is important to note that there is no scientific proof to support these claims.

Is HBOT safe?

When provided in a properly licensed and staffed facility, and when used to treat recognized medical conditions, HBOT is generally safe. However, there are a number of potential health and safety risks.

Before consenting to treatment, you should consider these factors:

  • Pressure inside the chamber can damage the middle and inner ear, nasal sinuses, lungs and teeth in both adults and children.
  • The therapy may affect your eyes, for example by promoting nearsightedness or cataract growth.
  • Because hyperbaric oxygen therapy affects blood sugar levels, diabetics should have their levels checked before and after treatment.
  • A high concentration of oxygen can cause serious complications in some children who have congenital heart disease.
  • Too much oxygen can sometimes, although rarely, lead to overload that can cause seizures and lung problems. This is usually prevented by having the patient take breaks to breathe normal air instead of pure oxygen.
  • High concentrations of oxygen at elevated pressures can pose a risk of fire.

If you decide to pursue this therapy, Health Canada recommends the following steps:

  • Make sure your medical condition is on the list of recognized conditions that respond to hyperbaric oxygen therapy.
  • Make sure the hyperbaric chamber has been licensed by Health Canada. You can do this on the Internet by searching Health Canada’s database of approved medical devices. Medical Devices Active Licence Listing (MDALL).

For more information, please see the information brochure provided by Health Canada.