For some oxygen therapy, it’s necessary to use a higher pressure than standard atmospheric pressure. This is called Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy. A hyperbaric chamber is used to maintain the pressure and can also control the amount of oxygen present. These chambers are generally capsules in which a person can lay and receive the necessary treatment.
There are several reasons a hyperbaric chamber may be used. When a diver comes to the surface too quickly, they risk a condition called decompression sickness, or the bends. Because of the drastic change in pressure, nitrogen bubbles develop in the body, blocking oxygen and causing other damage. The increased pressure in a hyperbaric chamber helps bring the body back into balance.
For many other conditions, a hyperbaric chamber’s ability to increase the partial pressure of oxygen in the body can be of great therapeutic value. The partial pressure of oxygen is the absolute pressure multiplied by the volume of the specific gas component. When pressure is increased, more of the oxygen becomes usable. Another effect is increased ability of the blood to transport oxygen throughout the body. Under the increased pressure, blood plasma is able to transport oxygen, where at normal pressure only the red blood cells do this. There is also evidence that hyperbaric oxygen therapy can increase recovery of damaged organs and tissues.
Hyperbaric chambers range from large units that patient and medical staff can occupy to small semi portable units that can be used in the home. There are possible risks associated with use of a hyperbaric chamber. Pressure changes can cause damage to the body, and breathing too much oxygen can result in a condition called oxygen toxicity. It’s common to have discomfort in the ears during these treatments, just as when flying or driving in the mountains.