Risks And Precautionary Steps Involved In Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy

When mild hyperbaric therapy is administered properly and effectively in well maintained Hyperbaric Centers under the guidance of efficient test administrators, then there are high probabilities that the health conditions of the patient in question will certainly improve. However, individuals with lung diseases like as asthma, lung blockage, emphysema or any other obstructive condition should avoid undergoing this therapy, or certainly consult a doctor and weigh the relative drawbacks and benefits. There are certain potential risks that are associated with the safety of Hyperbaric Centers. Let us have a look at them:


A hyperbaric chamber is always susceptible to catching fire because of the supersaturation of oxygen although media reports of such accidents in the United States have been nil. However, there are some precautions that should always be kept in mind. Fire is mainly caused by three things:

Flammable materials


Ignition source

While it is impossible to remove oxygen from the chambers, as the therapy rests on the basic principle of inhaling pure oxygen, the other two sources can definitely be done away with. Patients should not smoke inside the chambers, or carry items that may cause a spark, and hence lead to a fire. Such items include electronics and gadgets, or even certain types of toys like the wind-up toy-cars. Such precautions should be taken even more carefully in the case of hard chambers kept in clinics and hospitals, where the purity of oxygen that is administered is a complete 100%, and the pressure levels are almost 4 to 6 times more when compared to a mild hyperbaric chamber.


The lack of media records regarding explosions in hyperbaric centers does not warrant the fact that there will no accidental explosions in the future. Explosions take place when there is a rapid expansion in the gas volume creating an acute pressure situation that is relieved by a sudden outburst. When the pressure builds up tremendously, then the chambers are unable to withstand the force. An explosion will occur only when the gas within the chamber is caused to expand rapidly in a situation with high temperatures caused by fire. The only precautionary step for avoiding an explosion is to have fire prevention safeguards in place. Although explosions are rare, being adequately prepared for one always helps to prevent possible disasters.

Oxygen Toxicity

In mild hyperbaric chambers, where the pressure does not rise beyond 1.5 ATA, there are no possibilities of oxygen toxicity. The most common explanation of oxygen toxicity is that there is a complete exhaustion of the system’s radical-detoxification mechanisms that include superoxide dismutase, glutathione peroxidase, catalase, glutathione reductase along with certain enzymes. Therefore anti-oxidants like Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Selenium etc. are always recommended for patients undergoing hyperbaric therapy. Patients who undertake therapy in mild hyperbaric chambers, on the other hand, are advised to take a break of 3 to 4 weeks between consecutive sessions to allow the body to naturally fight the effects of oxygen toxicity and return to normal.

Seizures are a common side effect of oxygen toxicity, and rarely ever seen in the case of patients undergoing mild therapy. Although a seizure, by itself is harmless, it can have a detrimental effect on the physical health, as the person looses all control over his/her motor movements during one.

Myopia(nearsightedness) and cataract(blurring of vision due to pigmentation on the lenses) are other symptoms of excessive oxygen toxicity. Other causes that may result in oxygen toxicity are adrenocortical hormones, dextoamphetamine, CO2 inhalation, hyperthermia, insulin, epinephrine, norepinephrine, paraquat, alcohol, hyperthyroidism, recreational drugs, deficiency of Vitamin E etc.

Otic Barotrauma

This is real risk faced by patients undergoing therapy in both mild and hard hyperbaric chambers. However, it is temporary and not life-threatening. The tympanic membrane in the middle ear tends to repair itself quickly, even if it is ruptured. The only way to prevent inflammations in the ear and avoid hearing muffled sounds for days, if not weeks following the hyperbaric therapy is to plug in cotton or ear phones and thereby save the middle ear from the risk of adjusting to fluctuating pressures, thereby risking injury in the process.

Nitrogen Narcosis

This condition is not a serious threat. It is the complete saturation of the body with nitrogen. This is a major concern of aquatic divers who spend a lot of time underwater and breath a mixture of oxygen and nitrogen. For divers, it is a triple layered problem. Breathing 100% oxygen at great underwater depths might result in seizures, while inhaling ambient air risks narcosis. The only other option is to add helium to the whole mixture of nitrogen and oxygen. However, helium is extremely expensive, and has a tendency to reduce the normal body temperature. Also, those patients who are treated at pressure levels lower than 1.5 ATA in a hyperbaric chamber tend to run the risk of nitrogen narcosis. The only solution to this problem is to breath in pure oxygen that can help to reduce the level of nitrogen in the body.

Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy is beneficial for the treatment of many health conditions that are caused by oxygen paucity. However, there are certain risks as well. Hence it is best to be aware of them and take adequate precautions, apart from being aware of the possible solutions.