Hyperbaric oxygenation therapy involves breathing pure oxygen while in a chamber maintained at a pressure greater than atmospheric pressure. Decompression sickness, carbon monoxide poisoning, wounds, osteomyelitis, skin grafts and burns can all be treated in this way. The disadvantages associated with this type of therapy are fluid accumulation, pain in the ears, temporary vision changes, exacerbated cataracts, possible rupture of the lungs, fatigue, and oxygen toxicity. The treatment is not yet widely accepted in the mainstream medical community, and getting a referral for it can sometimes be difficult. In addition, few hospitals have hyperbaric facilities, making it hard to get access to this treatment.
If the body depressurizes quickly, dissolved gases can come out of the blood as bubbles and, if left untreated, cause rashes, extreme pain, paralysis, or death. Hyperbaric chambers alleviate decompression sickness by forcing the bubbles to dissolve in the blood. Their use to treat carbon monoxide poisoning is still controversial, but some evidence suggests that this treatment may hasten the release of carbon monoxide by the blood. Some medical professionals feel that breathing pure oxygen at atmospheric pressure is sufficient to treat carbon monoxide poisoning.
The primary benefit of hyperbaric oxygenation therapy is its ability to increase the absorption of oxygen by the tissue, promoting healing. This explains why it is used to treat slow-healing wounds complicated by poor circulation, such as diabetic foot, diabetic retinopathy, skin grafts, and burns. Treatment also accelerates the healing of complicated infections including both osteomyelitis, a bone or bone marrow infection, and severe infections of the skin and muscle.
Health-related disadvantages are rare but can include pain or fluid in the ears, temporary vision changes such as nearsightedness, exacerbating a developing cataract, possibly rupturing a lung when the patient holds his breath or does not breathe normally, fatigue, and oxygen toxicity or oxygen intoxication, causing disorientation and breathing difficulties. Many of these symptoms are temporary and will dissipate in a few weeks. Access to a hyperbaric chamber may be limited because the mainstream medical community has not yet completely accepted the use of this therapy, making obtaining a referral difficult. Research on the uses of hyperbaric chambers is extremely costly and therefore fairly limited, further slowing its acceptance. While facilities are gradually growing in numbers, finding a local one can still be difficult.