For hyperbaric oxygen therapy, the affected person lies down on a stretcher that slides into an acrylic tube about 7 ft (2.1 m) long and 25 in. (64 cm) across. The pressure inside the tube is raised, and 100% oxygen is delivered under high pressure. Each treatment session lasts about 90 minutes. After treatment, the chamber is depressurized slowly while the person rests inside.
What To Expect After Treatment
A person typically recovers from carbon monoxide poisoning within a few days. But it is important to remember that long-term effects may occur days or weeks after carbon monoxide poisoning.
Why It Is Done
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy can be used to quickly reduce both the carbon monoxide level in the blood and the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning. The use of hyperbaric oxygen therapy is evaluated on a case-by-case basis. Things to consider include:
- The amount of carbon monoxide in the blood.
- How bad the symptoms are, such as whether a person has lost consciousness or appears confused.
- The distance to the nearest hyperbaric chamber.
- The person's age, the presence of heart or brain disease, and overall health. Infants, small children, older adults, or people with health problems are more easily affected by high amounts of carbon monoxide in the blood, and their symptoms usually are more severe.
- Pregnancy and whether the pregnant woman has had a significant exposure to carbon monoxide.
Treatments may be repeated depending on how well the first treatment works.
How Well It Works
It is not clear if hyperbaric oxygen treatments work better than oxygen therapy at normal pressure to reduce the risk of cognitive problems, such as lasting damage to memory, attention, and concentration.1, 2
In pregnant women who have been exposed to carbon monoxide, hyperbaric oxygen therapy reduces the time needed to lower carbon monoxide levels in fetal blood, which increases the chances for a healthy baby. The fetus has a higher risk for carbon monoxide poisoning, because it takes longer for carbon monoxide to be eliminated from fetal blood than from the mother's blood.3
What To Think About
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy chambers are located only at specialty medical centers or major hospitals.
Hyperbaric oxygen chambers also are used to treat people who have decompression sickness from scuba diving.
Primary Medical ReviewerAnne C. Poinier, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical ReviewerR. Steven Tharratt, MD, MPVM, FACP, FCCP - Pulmonology, Critical Care Medicine, Medical Toxicology
Current as ofNovember 20, 2015