Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is a treatment to increase a person's blood oxygen level, which can prevent tissue death, promote healing, and help fight infection. This treatment involves a person being in an enclosed chamber while 100% oxygen is pumped in at high pressure.
The purpose of oxygen therapy for the treatment of
carbon monoxide poisoningis to reduce the amount of carbon monoxide in the blood and restore the oxygen level to normal as quickly as possible.
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy may be used to treat other conditions such as diabetic ulcers, some infections, burns, decompression sickness, and other kinds of injuries.
For hyperbaric oxygen therapy, the affected person lies down on a stretcher that slides into an acrylic tube about 7 ft (2.1 m) long and 25 in. (64 cm) across. The pressure inside the tube is raised, and 100% oxygen is delivered under high pressure. Each treatment session lasts about 90 minutes. After treatment, the chamber is depressurized slowly while the person rests inside.
A person typically recovers from carbon monoxide poisoning within a few days. But it is important to remember that long-term effects may occur days or weeks after carbon monoxide poisoning.
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy can be used to quickly reduce both the carbon monoxide level in the blood and the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning. The use of hyperbaric oxygen therapy is evaluated on a case-by-case basis. Things to consider include:
- The amount of carbon monoxide in the blood.
- How bad the symptoms are, such as whether a person has lost consciousness or appears confused.
- The distance to the nearest hyperbaric chamber.
- The person's age, the presence of heart or brain disease, and overall health. Infants, small children, older adults, or people with health problems are more easily affected by high amounts of carbon monoxide in the blood, and their symptoms usually are more severe.
- Pregnancy and whether the pregnant woman has had a significant exposure to carbon monoxide.
Treatments may be repeated depending on how well the first treatment works. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy may also be used to treat other conditions such as diabetic ulcers, some infections, burns, decompression sickness, and other kinds of injuries.
It is not clear if hyperbaric oxygen treatments work better than oxygen therapy at normal pressure to reduce the risk of cognitive problems, such as lasting damage to memory, attention, and concentration.
In pregnant women who have been exposed to carbon monoxide, hyperbaric oxygen therapy reduces the time needed to lower carbon monoxide levels in fetal blood, which increases the chances for a healthy baby. The fetus has a higher risk for carbon monoxide poisoning, because it takes longer for carbon monoxide to be eliminated from fetal blood than from the mother's blood.
Risks of hyperbaric oxygen therapy may include ear pain, rupture of the eardrum, sinus discomfort, a bloody nose, and in very rare cases, seizure or problems from too much oxygen.
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy chambers are located only at specialty medical centers or major hospitals.
Hyperbaric oxygen chambers also are used to treat people who have decompression sickness from scuba diving. In addition, they may be used to treat diabetic ulcers, some infections, burns, and other kinds of injuries.
- Weaver LK, et al. (2002). Hyperbaric oxygen for acute carbon monoxide poisoning. New England Journal of Medicine, 347(14): 1057–1067.
- Buckley NA, et al. (2011). Hyperbaric oxygen for carbon monoxide poisoning. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews (4).
- Kao LW, Nanagas KA (2005). Carbon monoxide poisoning. Medical Clinics of North America, 89(6): 1161–1194.
Current as of: August 21, 2019
Author: Healthwise Staff
Anne C. Poinier MD - Internal Medicine
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
R. Steven Tharratt MD, MPVM, FACP, FCCP - Pulmonology, Critical Care Medicine, Medical Toxicology