Although the use of hyperbaric oxygen therapy has proven to be extremely safe, as with any kind of medical treatment, there are potential side effects. Due to the nature of the therapy, the list of potential hyperbaric chamber side effects is somewhat extensive. Doctors typically review the hyperbaric chamber side effects with patients prior to undergoing therapy.
One of the hyperbaric chamber side effects is pain in the ears or sinuses. Sometimes patients are able to equalize their ears or sinuses while in the chamber but if they are unable to, the pressurization can be lessened or even stopped completely and some measurements can be taken before continuing the therapy. A small hole in the eardrum can be made or special earplugs can be inserted to help reduce the pain.
Another one of the hyperbaric chamber side effects is the accumulation of fluid in the ears. This condition usually goes away once the treatment is concluded and can be treated with the use of decongestants.
A low risk hyperbaric chamber side effect is oxygen toxicity. Oxygen toxicity can have effects on the pulmonary system and may cause seizures. Oxygen toxicity is usually avoided by not exposing patients to pressures that are greater of times that are known to be longer than are safe for an individual’s body and its systems.
Another one of the hyperbaric chamber side effects is changes in eyesight. This can range from blurring of the vision to worsening of near-sightedness or improvements in far-sightedness. These changes in vision are more likely to occur when there are a great number of treatments and in patients over 40 years of age. The changes, however, are usually temporary and a person’s eye sight returns to its pre-treatment levels between six to eight weeks after the therapy ends. Patients who have cataracts may find that their cataracts mature but the therapy itself does not cause cataracts to form.
Sometimes one the hyperbaric chamber side effects is claustrophobia caused by the confined space inside the chamber. This condition can be easily controlled by maintaining communication with the technician or doctor outside the chamber, using relaxation techniques or putting the patient under mild sedation. If the condition persists, then some other type of treatment may need to be sought.
One possible but rare hyperbaric chamber side effect is pneumothorax, which is a collapsed lung. This can potentially happen when the change in air pressure surrounding a person occurs rapidly or if there is a blockage during decompression so that the passage of air out of the lungs does not happen normally. The lungs can rupture allowing air to escape into the area of the chest outside the lungs or into the arteries. To prevent this from happening, slow decompressions are used in the hyperbaric chambers. Another way to prevent lungs from collapsing is to encourage patients to breathe normally during treatment and not to hold their breath.
Another one of the possible hyperbaric chamber side effects is risk of fire but these occurrences are extremely rare as all precautions are taken to comply with applicable codes. In general, hyperbaric chamber side effects are minimal in nature and are not to cause any alarm for the patient.