hbot side effects

The Safety and Side Effects of HBOT: What You Need to Know Before Starting Treatment

Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT) is a non-invasive medical treatment option for various conditions. It involves breathing in pure oxygen in a pressurized chamber. This treatment option has recently gained popularity for its potential benefits in improving certain medical conditions and healing damaged tissue. However, like any medical intervention, it’s essential to understand the safety considerations and potential HBOT side effects before starting treatment. For most patients, this treatment produces no side effects, and patients can comfortably relax during the treatment. But just with any type of medical treatment, there can be some side effects and safety concerns for certain patients. 

To help you avoid any complications or unwanted side effects if you’re thinking of HBOT, we’ll review all possible side effects and potential safety concerns so you can go into your treatment confidently.  

What is HBOT?

Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT) is a treatment where patients breathe pure oxygen at a pressure greater than the atmospheric pressure. The term “hyperbaric” refers to an environment at a higher pressure than the atmospheric pressure. HBOT is designed to increase the amount of oxygen in the body’s tissues, promoting healing and providing therapeutic benefits.

During an HBOT session, the patient enters a specialized chamber, often called a hyperbaric chamber. The chamber is sealed, and the pressure gradually increases to a level higher than atmospheric pressure. This increased pressure allows the lungs to take in a higher concentration of oxygen, which then dissolves into the bloodstream. As a result, oxygen reaches areas of the body with restricted blood flow or diminished oxygen supply, aiding in the healing process.

The duration and number of HBOT sessions can vary depending on the condition being treated. Some treatments may require a single session, while others may involve multiple sessions spread over several weeks or months. Each session typically lasts between 60 to 120 minutes, during which the patient remains inside the chamber.

HBOT is used to treat a range of medical conditions, including decompression sickness (the bends), carbon monoxide poisoning, non-healing wounds, radiation injuries, diabetic ulcers, and certain infections. It can also be used as adjunctive therapy for conditions such as stroke, traumatic brain injuries, multiple sclerosis, and some neurological disorders.

Safety of HBOT Treatment Safety

When administered by trained professionals in appropriate settings, HBOT has a generally safe track record. However, discussing any pre-existing medical conditions or concerns with your healthcare provider before undergoing treatment is crucial.

Only some people are good candidates for HBOT, and this treatment may pose risks to people with certain conditions. HBOT treatment may be unsafe for you if:

  • you have a collapsed lung or a lung disease that increases your chance of having a collapsed lung
  • you have a fever or cold 
  • you have or have recently had an ear injury, infection, or surgery

As always, you should consult a practitioner if you’re considering HBOT therapy to ensure you’re healthy enough to undergo this treatment safely. 

HBOT Side Effects

Patients who undergo HBOT treatment generally report little to no side effects and that any side effects experienced are mild. Still, individual experiences vary, and it’s important to note that side effects are possible, like any type of medical treatment. Most side effects experienced aren’t harmful and subside once treatment is over. However, it’s a good idea to be informed about all the potential side effects of HBOT treatment so you can discuss any concerns with your practitioner.

Fatigue and Lightheadedness

After undergoing HBOT treatment, it is common to experience feelings of weakness, lightheadedness, and fatigue. These sensations are expected and typically subside after a brief period of rest. However, if these side effects persist or significantly impact your quality of life, consulting with a doctor or another healthcare professional is essential. 

They can assess your situation and determine if any adjustments to your treatment plan are needed. Open communication with your healthcare team is crucial in ensuring the best possible outcomes and addressing any concerns you may have during your HBOT therapy.

HBOT Side Effects: Claustrophobia

Claustrophobia, an intense emotional reaction triggered by the fear of small or crowded spaces, can be exacerbated in the enclosed environment of a pressurized chamber. However, newer versions of hyperbaric chambers address this concern by utilizing transparent acrylic materials, providing visibility and a full view of the surroundings throughout the session.

If you experience discomfort due to confined spaces, it is vital to inform your clinician before your appointment. They can prescribe medication to help you relax during the treatment and alleviate any anxiety or claustrophobic feelings that may arise.

Eye Pain and Pressure

The fluctuation in air pressure during hyperbaric treatment can result in temporary changes to the shape of the eye’s lens. Typically, these changes worsen nearsightedness but can improve age-related alterations that impact the ability to focus the eyes.

It’s important to note that these changes are temporary; in most cases, the eye will return to its pre-treatment shape within 6 to 8 weeks. However, it is worth mentioning that there have been rare instances where eyesight does not revert to its pre-treatment state.

While long-term changes are uncommon, discussing any concerns or observations regarding your eyesight with your healthcare provider is essential. They can provide appropriate guidance, monitor your condition closely, and address any potential complications that may arise during or after hyperbaric treatment.

Ear Pain and Pressure

The pressure changes experienced inside a hyperbaric chamber can be likened to the sensation felt during a descent in an airplane. This atmospheric pressure can cause the ears to feel pressurized and create a need for them to “pop.”

One of the most common side effects of HBOT is middle ear trauma. This occurs due to the pressure differentials experienced during the treatment. To release the pressure and equalize the middle ear, it is necessary to manually open the Eustachian tube, which connects the middle ear to the sinuses. Techniques such as swallowing or chewing help open the valve and release the trapped air, stabilizing the pressure.

Be cautious, as excessive pressure build-up in the middle ear can cause the eardrum to warp and bend inward. This can lead to a perforated eardrum or hearing loss in rare cases. To mitigate the risk of these complications, healthcare professionals closely monitor and manage pressure changes within the hyperbaric chamber. Patients are encouraged to practice the techniques mentioned to equalize the pressure in the middle ear during the treatment.

It is crucial to inform the medical staff if you experience discomfort or concerns regarding your ears or hearing during or after HBOT sessions. They can assess your condition and provide appropriate guidance or interventions to ensure your safety and well-being throughout the treatment process.

Sinus Pressure and Pain

Sinus pain ranks as the second most commonly reported side effect of HBOT. Similar to the ear, the sinuses are air-filled chambers within the head. Changes in pressure during HBOT sessions can result in a sinus squeeze.

This alteration in pressure causes inflammation of the sinuses, leading to swelling. The swollen sinuses can obstruct the nasal passages, resulting in symptoms such as nasal congestion, facial pain, and swelling.

When the pressure in the sinus cavity cannot be equalized, it may lead to intense facial pain and even bleeding into the sinuses. However, it is important to note that these symptoms are rare and can generally be managed effectively.

Medical interventions such as decongestant nasal sprays, antihistamines, or steroid nasal sprays are commonly used to alleviate symptoms associated with sinus pain during HBOT treatment.

Low Blood Sugar

Individuals with diabetes may encounter a decrease in blood sugar levels while undergoing treatment. To ensure safety, glucose levels are carefully monitored throughout the session.

Maintaining stable blood sugar levels can be aided by eating before the appointment. This can help prevent fluctuations and mitigate potential post-treatment symptoms associated with blood sugar imbalances.

HBOT Side Effects: Tooth Squeeze

When an air pocket is present within a tooth, the pressure fluctuations during HBOT treatment can lead to tooth pain near the root. This phenomenon, referred to as “tooth squeeze,” can occur during the compression or decompression phases. Excessive pressure within the tooth can result in a dental fracture.

Various factors, including sinusitis, dental infections, and recent dental procedures, can cause tooth squeeze. It is important to note that research on tooth squeeze has primarily focused on individuals such as aircraft personnel, air passengers, and divers exposed to pressure changes outside of hyperbaric therapy.

To prevent the symptoms of tooth squeeze from arising, it is advisable to undergo a dental evaluation before your hyperbaric treatment. A thorough dental examination conducted by a hyperbaric medical physician can help determine your suitability for the treatment and identify any pre-existing dental issues that may increase the risk of tooth squeeze.

By addressing potential dental concerns before treatment, you can minimize the likelihood of experiencing tooth squeeze and ensure a safer and more comfortable hyperbaric therapy experience.

Lung Pressure and Pain

While lung pressure and pain aren’t common side effects of HBOT treatment, they may be experienced by those with asthma, lung disease, or COPD

Overinflation of the lungs can result in air leakage into the chest cavity, which can subsequently cause lung collapse. This excess air within the chest cavity can lead to breathing difficulties and decreased blood pressure.

Additionally, there is a possibility of air leakage from the lungs into the blood vessels, which can result in the formation of an embolism. Gas bubbles in the bloodstream can travel to the heart and other organs, obstructing fresh blood flow. It is crucial to note that an untreated embolism can be life-threatening.

Oxygen Toxicity and Poisoning

While rare, the lungs may face challenges in handling the high concentration of oxygen present within a hyperbaric chamber, as they are exposed to 100% oxygen. Extended exposure to elevated oxygen levels can result in breathing difficulties, chest pain, and in severe cases, respiratory failure.

While pulmonary oxygen toxicity is not expected during routine daily HBOT, prolonged exposure makes its development possible.

Moreover, the increased oxygen levels in the chamber can overload the central nervous system, potentially triggering a seizure. Such seizures are rare and usually subside once the supplemental oxygen supply is discontinued.

HBOT Side Effects Bottom Line

While HBOT is generally safe, like all medical treatments, it’s not entirely without risks. However, most side effects from HBOT are mild and go away independently after the treatment session. 

Before undergoing HBOT treatment, consult a practitioner to ensure the treatment will be safe for you. And as always, it’s crucial to receive HBOT treatments from a high-quality, experienced facility to provide safe and effective results. 
At CORR, we work closely with you before and during your HBOT treatments to predict and prevent any possible side effects and help you manage them to get the most out of your treatment. If you’re interested in HBOT treatments or want to discuss any potential side effect concerns, contact us today.