What is Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy?

Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT) includes a series of treatments “dives” within a hyperbaric chamber under specialized supervision. While within the chamber, the patient is introduced to a 100% oxygen environment under pressure. The pressure, duration and frequency of treatments are prescribed by the referring (or attending) physician. During treatment, the partial pressure of oxygen within tissue is increased. This affects the plasma within the patient’s blood, causing a dramatic increase to the plasma’s ability to carry oxygen to tissues and organs. Patients suffering from decompression sickness or an air embolism mostly benefit from the volumetric reduction of inert gas bubbles within tissue. HBOT treatment is also meticulously monitored. Treatment schedules can be subject to alteration depending upon the patient’s comfort.

The Beginning

Hyperbaric using air can trace its heritage back several centuries to Henshaw’s work during the 1660’s or Robert Boyle observing decompression sickness in a viper in 1670. While Hyperbaric using Oxygen also owes a great deal to Boyle and Henshaw, the key to modern acceptance and success can be attributed to events just within the past 100 years.

Modern Hyperbaric Medicine

Doctors Behnke and Shaw (1933) recorded the first treatment of decompression sickness within a pressurized oxygen environment. Advances in the 50’s and 60’s came from great minds such as Dr. Ite Boerema, Dr. Willem Brummelkamp, Dr. George Smith and Dr. G. R. Sharp. Dr Brummelkamp discovered that anaerobic infections, such as gaseous and acute dermal gangrene, are inhibited by hyperbaric oxygen therapy. Doctors Smith and Sharp treated patients suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning with great success. Dr. Ite Boerema, war hero and brilliant cardiovascular surgeon, discovered the effects hyperbaric oxygen made on blood plasma; performed the first open heart surgery inside a hyperbaric chamber; and discovered that cardiac arrest could be induced during hyperbaric treatment for up to 8 minutes without irreparable effects (versus 4 minutes in nomobaric conditions). These successes gave rise to the wide spread use of hyperbaric medicine today.

The UMS (Undersea Medical Society) was originally conceived as an organization devoted to diving science and medicine. After its inception in 1967, the UMS had garnered popularity and interest from commercial divers, sports athletes and military personnel.

The establishment of their journal, Undersea Biomedical Research in 1974 sparked an already increasing interest in the practices of hyperbaric oxygen physiology and therapy. In 1986, the UMS was renamed to The Undersea and Hyperbaric Medical Society (UHMS) to more accurately represent the focus of the organization. The UHMS journal followed suit in 1993, when the publication was renamed to Undersea and Hyperbaric Medical Journal.

Today, the mission of the UHMS has been to improve the scientific basis of hyperbaric oxygen therapy. Included in these is the promotion of sound treatment protocols and standards of practice, while providing continued medical education (CME) accreditation within its field. At great cost and credit to the UHMS, Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy has become increasingly popular as studies affirm the vast applications of this discipline.

What to expect when starting HBOT

After being referred by your primary care physician, you will be scheduled for a preliminary examination by our medical director to be cleared for HBOT treatments.

Prior to each treatment, you will change into a hospital gown. Vital signs and blood sugar (if applicable) will be checked and a physician evaluation will be conducted. You will be asked to lie down on a reclining bed and positioned comfortably inside of a see-through chamber where you will be able to communicate with our team.

During the treatment, you will feel the effect of pressure on your ears and possibly your sinuses. You will be instructed on techniques to relieve the pressure. You may notice a slight change in temperature and you may hear the air flowing through the chamber; similar to the noises that you hear on an airplane.

The hyperbaric team will monitor you throughout the course of your treatment to ensure that you are comfortable. Most treatments last approximately two hours during which you can watch TV or videos or listen to music. Treatments may be shortened when necessary.

A patient enters chamber to which is pressurized to 2-3 atmospheres absolute (ATA) with 100% ambient oxygen. This process provides the parameters for the lungs to gather more oxygen than would be possible at 1 ATA.

The oxygen in the blood cells travel throughout the body fighting bacteria and stimulate the release of substances called growth factors and stem cells, which promote healing.

Conditions treated with HBOT include infections, bubbles of air in your blood vessels, and wounds that won’t heal as a result of diabetes or radiation injury.

Will my insurance cover my treatment?                                                          

Medicare and most other third-party payers recognize and provide Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy coverage for the 14 official HBOT Indications (for which indications we treat, Click Here). If you have any financial questions, please Contact Us. Nothing is more important than getting patients the treatment they need and our team is happy to answer any questions you our your family may have.

What can I wear inside the chamber?

We ask all our patients to bring a pair of 100% cotton under garments to wear while inside the hyperbaric chamber. Our centers provide 100% cotton gowns for patients that do not have access to proper attire. We only require that undergarments be worn, and that they are 100% cotton.

To ensure patient safety, there are certain items not allowed inside the hyperbaric chambers. Please do not wear or bring the following into the chamber during your treatment:

  • Makeup
  • Perfume
  • Aftershave
  • Hairspray/Hair oils
  • Wigs/Hairpieces
  • Nail polish
  • Alcohol or petroleum-based products
  • Cell phones/Electronic devices
  • Metallic items (such as jewelry, titanium eyeglass frames, keys, watches, coins)
  • Flammable materials or heat-producing items (heating pads, lighters, cigarettes)
  • Hearing aids
  • Food, gum or candy
  • Books, magazines, newspapers or any paper products


We also ask that you disclose any medical devices or items that you have on or in your body at your first visit. Our staff will determine if the device is approved and can be safely pressurized in the chamber.

If you have any questions or concerns in relation to HBOT at NorCal HC, please feel free to Contact Us