10 Most Common Side Effects of Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) is a medical treatment that involves breathing pure oxygen in a pressurized chamber. While HBOT is generally safe and well-tolerated, like any medical procedure, it can carry potential risks and complications. In this section, we will discuss the 10 most common side effects of hyperbaric oxygen therapy that individuals may experience during or after treatment.

Understanding Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy

Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT) is a medical treatment that involves breathing pure oxygen while being in a pressurized environment. This process increases the amount of oxygen dissolved in the blood, which can help promote healing and fight infection.

HBOT is commonly used to treat conditions such as decompression sickness, carbon monoxide poisoning, and some types of wounds. It is also sometimes used as a complementary therapy for conditions such as cancer, stroke, and multiple sclerosis.

How Does Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy Work?

During HBOT, the patient is placed in a hyperbaric chamber, which can be a rigid metal or flexible bag-like structure. The chamber is then filled with pure oxygen and pressurized to between 1.5 to 3 times the normal atmospheric pressure.

Under these conditions, the body is able to absorb more oxygen than it would under normal atmospheric pressure. This increased oxygenation can help promote the growth of new blood vessels, stimulate the immune system, and improve overall wound healing.

What Are the Risks and Complications of Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy?

Like any medical treatment, HBOT does carry some risks and potential complications. These can include sinus and ear barotrauma, oxygen toxicity, claustrophobia and anxiety, fire risk, baropneumothorax, allergic reactions, and vision changes.

In addition, some individuals may experience temporary changes in their vision or hearing, although these usually resolve shortly after the treatment is completed.

It is important to discuss the potential risks and benefits of HBOT with your healthcare provider before beginning treatment. They can help you determine if this therapy is appropriate for your specific condition and medical history.

Common Side Effects of Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy

While hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) can be an effective treatment for a range of conditions, there are several common side effects that individuals may experience during or after the treatment. Below are some of the most frequently reported side effects:

Side Effect Description
Fatigue During and after treatment, patients may experience feelings of fatigue and exhaustion. This is a common side effect that can last for several hours or days.
Headaches Some patients may experience mild to moderate headaches during and after treatment. These headaches are typically short-lived and can be managed with over-the-counter pain medication if needed.
Lightheadedness and Dizziness Patients may experience feelings of lightheadedness and dizziness during or after treatment. This is typically due to changes in air pressure and can be alleviated by sitting or lying down.
Ear Pain Changes in air pressure during treatment can cause ear pain or discomfort. This can be managed by swallowing, yawning, or using specialized earplugs provided by the treatment center.
Nausea Some patients may experience feelings of nausea during or after treatment. This side effect typically resolves on its own within a few hours.
Claustrophobia Being enclosed in the hyperbaric chamber can trigger feelings of claustrophobia in some patients. Treatment centers are equipped with strategies to help manage these feelings, including relaxation techniques and counseling.
Oxygen Toxicity While rare, some patients may develop oxygen toxicity as a result of HBOT. Symptoms may include seizures, vision changes, and other neurological symptoms. Treatment center staff are trained to recognize and manage this potentially serious side effect.
Changes in Vision In some cases, patients may experience changes in their vision during or after treatment. This can include blurred vision or difficulty focusing. These changes are typically temporary and should resolve on their own within a few hours or days.

If you are undergoing HBOT and experience any of these side effects, it is important to speak with your treatment center staff. With proper management, most side effects can be effectively managed and do not pose a serious risk to your health.

Sinus and Ear Barotrauma

Sinus and ear barotrauma is a common side effect of hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT). It occurs when there is a change in pressure inside the chamber, causing pain in the sinuses and ears.

Causes Symptoms Treatment
Quick changes in pressure Pain or discomfort in sinuses, ears, or both Decongestants, pain relievers, or nasal sprays
Blocked Eustachian tube Reduced hearing, dizziness and ringing in ears For more severe cases, a doctor may need to make a tiny incision in the eardrum to equalize pressure

To prevent sinus and ear barotrauma, individuals should refrain from flying or scuba diving for at least 24 hours before and after HBOT. It is essential to clear the sinuses and ears before entering the chamber, and if symptoms occur during treatment, notify the technician immediately.

Oxygen Toxicity

Oxygen toxicity is a potential side effect of hyperbaric oxygen therapy that can result in serious complications. It occurs when the body’s tissues are exposed to an excess of oxygen, causing damage to cells and organs.

Symptoms of oxygen toxicity can include chest pain, breathing difficulties, coughing, nausea, seizures, and vision changes. These symptoms can occur suddenly and without warning, making it important for the medical team to monitor patients closely during treatment.

Risk factors for oxygen toxicity include prolonged exposure to high levels of oxygen, increased pressure in the treatment chamber, and preexisting lung conditions. It is important for patients to inform their medical team of any preexisting conditions to minimize their risk of this side effect.

Management of oxygen toxicity typically involves interrupting the treatment session and administering supplemental oxygen. In severe cases, hospitalization may be necessary.

To minimize the risk of oxygen toxicity, patients undergoing hyperbaric oxygen therapy should follow all safety instructions provided by their medical team. This includes avoiding smoking, which can increase the risk of oxygen toxicity, and informing the medical team of any medications or supplements being taken that may interact with the treatment.

Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy: Managing Claustrophobia and Anxiety

Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT) is a treatment that involves breathing pure oxygen in a pressurized chamber. While HBOT has been shown to be effective in treating a range of medical conditions, some individuals may experience psychological side effects such as claustrophobia and anxiety during the treatment. Here, we’ll discuss some strategies to manage these emotions during HBOT.


Claustrophobia is a fear of enclosed spaces and can be triggered by being in the hyperbaric chamber. It can be a distressing experience and may even cause some individuals to discontinue their HBOT treatment.

To manage claustrophobia during HBOT, patients should communicate their feelings to the healthcare provider. The provider may be able to offer reassurances and suggest relaxation techniques, such as controlled breathing and visualization, to help manage the anxiety. Additionally, patients can bring music or an audiobook to listen to during the treatment or ask if the chamber can be made more comfortable with additional lighting or ventilation.


Anxiety is a common psychological side effect of HBOT. It may be triggered by the tight space of the chamber or the noise of the machine. While anxiety during HBOT is usually mild, it can still be uncomfortable and distressing.

To manage anxiety during HBOT, patients can try relaxation techniques like deep breathing exercises, mindfulness, and visualization. Patients can also bring a friend or family member along to provide additional support during the treatment. It’s also important to communicate any concerns or discomfort to the healthcare provider.

Overall, managing claustrophobia and anxiety during HBOT requires a proactive approach. Patients should communicate their feelings to their healthcare provider, try relaxation techniques, and ask for modifications to the chamber if necessary. By taking these steps, patients can complete their HBOT treatment successfully and safely.

Fire Risk

One potential risk associated with hyperbaric oxygen therapy is the risk of fire. This is due to the high levels of oxygen used during the treatment, which can create a highly combustible environment if proper safety measures are not taken.

However, it’s important to note that the risk of fire is extremely low when proper safety procedures are followed. All hyperbaric chambers are equipped with a fire suppression system, and patients undergoing the treatment are instructed to remove all flammable materials and avoid wearing synthetic clothing or accessories.

If you have any concerns about the fire risk associated with hyperbaric oxygen therapy, it’s important to speak with your healthcare provider and make sure that all necessary safety measures are in place.

Baropneumothorax: A Rare but Serious Side Effect of Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy

Baropneumothorax is a rare but potentially life-threatening side effect of hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT). It occurs when air escapes from the lungs and enters the space between the lung and chest wall, causing the lung to collapse. This can lead to difficulty breathing and chest pain.

The risk of developing baropneumothorax during HBOT is higher in individuals with pre-existing lung conditions, such as emphysema or asthma. It is also more likely to occur when the therapy is delivered at high pressures or for an extended period of time.

Symptoms of baropneumothorax include sudden chest pain, shortness of breath, and a feeling of tightness in the chest. If you experience any of these symptoms during hyperbaric oxygen therapy, it is important to notify the medical staff immediately.

Baropneumothorax is typically treated with a procedure called a chest tube thoracostomy. This involves inserting a tube through the chest wall and into the pleural space to release the trapped air and allow the lung to re-expand. In severe cases, surgery may be necessary.

While baropneumothorax is a rare side effect of HBOT, it is important to be aware of the risks associated with this treatment. Individuals with pre-existing lung conditions should discuss their medical history with the medical staff prior to undergoing this therapy.

Allergic Reactions

Although rare, allergic reactions are possible during hyperbaric oxygen therapy. These reactions may be caused by an individual’s sensitivity to the materials used in the therapy, such as the cleaning products used to disinfect the chamber or the type of oxygen being used.

Signs of an allergic reaction may include difficulty breathing, hives, swelling of the face or tongue, and tightness in the chest. In severe cases, an individual may experience anaphylaxis, which is a life-threatening allergic reaction that requires immediate medical attention.

If you have a known allergy to any materials used in the hyperbaric oxygen therapy, it is important to inform your healthcare provider before undergoing the treatment. They may recommend an alternative treatment or take precautions to minimize the risk of an allergic reaction.

If you experience any signs of an allergic reaction during the treatment, inform the healthcare provider immediately. They may administer medications, such as antihistamines or epinephrine, to manage the symptoms.

Vision Changes

Another potential side effect of hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) is vision changes. These changes can range from mild blurring to more severe vision loss.

Type of Vision Changes Description
Myopia A condition where objects up close appear clear but objects in the distance are blurry.
Presbyopia A natural aging process where the ability to focus on close objects decreases.
Cataracts A clouding of the eye’s natural lens.
Retinal Oxygen Toxicity A condition that occurs when the retina is exposed to too much oxygen, leading to vision loss.

The exact cause of vision changes during HBOT is not known, but it is believed to be due to an increase in oxygen levels in the body. To minimize the risk of vision changes, it is recommended that individuals undergoing HBOT receive regular eye examinations.

FAQs about Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) can be a daunting experience for those undergoing the treatment for the first time. Here are some frequently asked questions about HBOT and its potential side effects:

What is hyperbaric oxygen therapy?

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) is a medical treatment that involves breathing in pure oxygen in a pressurized environment. This treatment is commonly used to treat various medical conditions, such as wound healing, carbon monoxide poisoning, and decompression sickness.

What are the potential side effects of hyperbaric oxygen therapy?

There are several potential side effects of hyperbaric oxygen therapy, such as sinus and ear barotrauma, oxygen toxicity, claustrophobia, and anxiety. However, it is important to note that these side effects are generally mild and can be managed with proper medical care.

Is hyperbaric oxygen therapy safe?

When performed by a qualified medical professional, hyperbaric oxygen therapy is generally safe. However, there are potential risks associated with this treatment, such as fire risk and baropneumothorax.

How can I prepare for hyperbaric oxygen therapy?

Prior to undergoing hyperbaric oxygen therapy, it is important to inform your healthcare provider about any medical conditions or medications you are taking. You should also avoid consuming alcohol or caffeine and smoking tobacco before and after the treatment.

What should I expect during hyperbaric oxygen therapy?

During hyperbaric oxygen therapy, you will be placed in a pressurized chamber and asked to breathe in pure oxygen. You may experience a popping sensation in your ears, similar to what you feel during takeoff and landing on a plane. The treatment typically lasts between 60-120 minutes.

How can I manage anxiety or claustrophobia during hyperbaric oxygen therapy?

If you experience anxiety or claustrophobia during hyperbaric oxygen therapy, your healthcare provider may prescribe medication or suggest relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing or visualization exercises. It is also important to communicate your concerns with your healthcare provider before the treatment.

How often can I have hyperbaric oxygen therapy?

The frequency of hyperbaric oxygen therapy sessions depends on the medical condition being treated. Your healthcare provider will develop a treatment plan that best suits your individual needs.

Is hyperbaric oxygen therapy covered by insurance?

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy may be covered by your insurance provider if it is deemed medically necessary. However, it is important to check with your insurance provider beforehand to confirm coverage.

While hyperbaric oxygen therapy has potential side effects, it is a safe and effective treatment for various medical conditions. If you have any concerns or questions about this treatment, be sure to communicate them with your healthcare provider.

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