Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy Side Effects

Written by Pam MS, NCSP | Fact checked by Psychology Dictionary staff 

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy or HBOT involves lying on a table within an enclosed chamber, which contains predetermined levels of pure oxygen. HBOT sessions are prescribed on an individual basis. Depending on the reason for obtaining treatments, sessions last anywhere from a few minutes to two hours. Short breaks might be incorporated into therapy sessions in order to prevent tissues from becoming overly saturated. When administered in a hospital or professional medical clinic by a licensed medical personnel, treatments are typically safe. However, patients may endure various side effects.

Claustrophobia

Single patient chambers may prove too confining for some patients who then panic secondary to having claustrophobia. If necessary, patients might request mild sedatives prior to treatment. Some facilities are equipped with HBO chambers that accommodate more than one patient at a time, which helps alleviate anxiety and fear.

Visual Changes

The pressure and oxygen levels of hyperbaric chambers may temporarily alter the shape of the lenses in the eyes. This action makes nearsightedness worse but age-related presbyopia better. However, the lenses return to their previous refractory status approximately six to eight weeks after therapy sessions stop. In some cases, hyperbaric oxygen treatments may also progress the development of pre-existing cataracts.

Inner Ear Problems

Behind the eardrum, the inner ear contains an air-filled chamber that connects with the Eustachian tube, sinuses and throat. If the pressure in the middle ear does not equalize with the pressure created by the HBO chamber, the eardrum may fall inward and rupture, which causes hearing loss. Between the air-filled middle and fluid-filled inner ear lies the oval window membrane. Excessive pressure might rupture these membranes and cause deafness in one or both ears.

Oral and Sinus Complications

Sometimes dental work leaves microscopic air pockets within teeth. When the pressure exceeds that within these pockets, patients experience discomfort and the affected teeth are subject to cracking. The sinus cavities within the skull are also air-filled passages. An imbalance of pressure between the HBO chamber and the sinuses results in pain and the possibility of hemorrhage.

Breathing and Lung Trauma

When exposed to elevated oxygen levels for prolonged periods of time, patients become toxic. Symptoms include difficulty breathing and chest pain, which lead to respiratory failure if not promptly addressed and corrected. The excessive pressure can also cause air to leak from the lungs into the chest cavity. As the pressure increases in the chest cavity, the lung collapses, which causes a medical emergency. In this instance, the lung must be reinflated using a needle to remove air from the chest cavity. Patients may also require a chest tube.

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