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About Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy

Hyperbaric Patients

What is HBOT?

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) accelerates the body's natural healing process by increasing the amount of oxygen in the blood. Treatment takes place in a sealed chamber where oxygen and pressure are steadily increased.

Benefits of HBOT

Body tissue needs a sufficient amount of oxygen in order to function properly. Tissue that is injured requires even more oxygen in order to heal. Many difficult-to-heal wounds are “hypoxic” (deprived of oxygen). Hyperbaric oxygen therapy speeds up the healing process by delivering oxygen to these injured areas.

Here are some benefits of hyperbaric oxygen therapy:

  • Low-risk
  • Noninvasive
  • Cost-effective
  • Lifesaving, vision- and limb-saving
  • Evidence-based
  • Well-tolerated

Medical Uses of Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy

Originally used for decompression sickness and other diving complications, hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) now treats a wide range of conditions, including life-threatening emergencies. HBOT is not designed to replace proven methods, but to enhance the effectiveness of treatment such as surgery, antibiotics and wound care.

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is officially approved by the Undersea Hyperbaric Medical Society to treat the following:

  1. Radiation tissue damage (following cancer therapy)
  2. Gas embolism
  3. Carbon monoxide poisoning
  4. Potentially deadly form of tissue death (gas gangrene)
  5. Crush injury/compartment syndrome
  6. Decompression sickness (the bends)
  7. Any condition that slows or stops the flow of blood in the arteries (e.g., central retinal artery occlusion)
  8. Severe anemia
  9. Brain abscess
  10. Severe bacterial infection that destroys underlying tissue, muscles and skin (necrotizing soft tissue infection)
  11. Swelling of bone tissue (osteomyelitis)
  12. Compromised skin flaps and grafts
  13. Acute thermal burn injury
  14. Sudden sensorineural hearing loss

Insurance coverage for HBOT

Indications that are approved by the Undersea Hyperbaric Medical Society are usually covered by insurance. When you call for an appointment or your doctor refers you, we will verify your insurance coverage.

What to Expect During HBOT

Hyperbaric Patient

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy occurs in a sealed, pressurized room. You can lie down or sit upright. A customized oxygen breathing hood is placed over your head, allowing oxygen to be immediately dissolved in your plasma. This speeds up the delivery of concentrated oxygen to the diseased tissue. Oxygen is fed through the breathing hood until oxygen level is at 100 percent (the air we breathe only contains 21 percent oxygen). Simultaneously, the pressure surrounding your body is slowly increased above normal atmospheric pressure.

The combination of pure oxygen and increase of pressure forces the oxygen to enter your blood faster and more efficiently. Thus, oxygen level in your blood is raised higher than could be achieved at normal air pressure. This extra oxygen is carried through your bloodstream and delivered to your body tissues.

How Many Sessions Will I Need?

The number of sessions needed depends on your condition as well as your response to treatment. Some emergency treatments (e.g., carbon monoxide poisoning) may only need a few sessions while others (e.g., diabetic foot ulcer) may require more than 30 sessions.

What is the Length of an HBOT Session?

The average hyperbaric oxygen therapy session is two hours long.

How to Prepare for HBOT Treatment

Our hyperbaric medicine team will review the following information in detail with you to ensure that you’re properly prepared for each treatment session.

Products and Medications to Avoid

Substances like caffeine and tobacco shrink blood vessels and restrict the amount of blood that can be delivered to your tissues. Therefore, during your treatment it’s recommended that you avoid caffeine and tobacco.

Some medications can affect the way your body responds to oxygen. Before receiving hyperbaric treatment it’s important that you discuss any and all medications you’re currently taking.

For Your Safety

A spark or flame can quickly turn into a fire in a pure oxygen environment. While only a small area of the chamber is filled with pure oxygen (your breathing hood), we still restrict certain items from entering. This includes:

  • Makeup
  • All metal objects (e.g., jewelry)
  • Hairspray
  • Perfume
  • Cigarettes
  • Matches and lighters
  • Vaseline or any other petroleum-based products
  • Personal electronic devices

Most skin care products are petroleum-based, so please check with the hyperbaric unit staff before using any lotion or other product prior to treatment.

You will be given hospital scrubs to wear during your treatment to reduce the potential for static electricity.

Hyperbaric Chambers in San Diego County

Hyperbaric Chambers

The Encinitas hyperbaric chamber is designed with comfortable recliners, and both the Hillcrest and Encinitas hyperbaric chambers have view ports. During treatment, you can read books and magazines, watch TV or listen to music.

The "multiplace" chambers are large and can treat multiple people at one time. A certified hyperbaric technician or emergency medical technician will be with you inside the chamber at all times.

Emergencies are handled via the Emergency Department at UC San Diego Medical Center in Hillcrest. These include:

  • Carbon monoxide poisoning
  • Gas embolism
  • Diving complications
  • Necrotizing injuries
  • Failed skin grafts
  • Central retinal artery occlusion
  • Sensorineural hearing loss

Nonemergencies can be treated either at our Encinitas clinic or Medical Offices North in Hillcrest, depending on your preference.

Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy Risks

Complications are rare, as hyperbaric oxygen therapy is generally a safe procedure, especially when performed under our expert supervision. However, side effects from increased air pressure and hyperoxia (excess oxygen in body tissue) can  arise on occasion.

The most common side effect is middle ear barotrauma, a condition that can cause discomfort and possible damage in the central area of the eardrum. Before treatment, our hyperbaric technicians will show you techniques to equalize the air space between sinuses and the middle ear (e.g., yawn and swallow).

Other possible side effects include:

  • Organ damage
  • Oxygen toxicity
  • Lightheadedness
  • Paralysis
  • Joint pain
  • Ear injuries (e.g., eardrum rupture, leaking fluid)
  • Seizures
  • Brief myopia (nearsightedness)
  • Claustrophobia

Some conditions and/or symptoms may make you unsuitable for hyperbaric treatment. These include:

  • Seizure disorder
  • High fever
  • Severe cough
  • Gas in the lung (e.g., pneumothorax)
  • Pregnancy

Our certified hyperbaric medicine team will be with at all times to ensure your safety and comfort.


Refer a patient for wound care or hyperbaric oxygen therapy. Call 855-543-0555.



  • Hillcrest - Emergency
  • Encinitas

Meet Our Team

Led by Ian Grover, MD, our hyperbaric medicine and wound care team successfully treats a range of complex problem wounds and conditions.

Hyperbaric Specialists

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UC San Diego operates the only hyperbaric chamber in the county open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Open since 1984, our team is ready for all wound and hyperbaric emergencies.

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If you have a wound that hasn't healed after four weeks of standard care, you need advanced wound treatment.

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