Is Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT) Safe?
When most people think of hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT), they think of claustrophobic, tubelike chambers used to treat scuba diving accidents or at-home pods shown off by celebrities and athletes.
In actuality, hyperbaric medicine is much more advanced, and can look very different today. With the help of science, Aviv Clinics has advanced hyperbaric medicine through a comprehensive program (that includes cognitive and physical training and nutritional coaching) that uses the healing power of oxygen to improve brain and body performance. Aviv administers HBOT in state-of-the-art multiplace suites as part of its comprehensive medical program to help improve the lives of patients suffering from conditions such as traumatic brain injury (TBI), post-concussion syndrome (PCS), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), stroke, Lyme disease and long COVID.
As wellness trends increasingly propel hyperbarics into non-healthcare spas and home use, it is important to understand that HBOT is a medical treatment and can absolutely be dangerous in these non-medical settings. Spa and in-home approaches don’t come close to the safety and effectiveness of Aviv’s comprehensive medical program with HBOT at its core.
Overview of HBOT safety data
HBOT has been safely used for medical purposes for many years with a low risk of side effects. The most common side effects include temporary changes in vision and mild to moderate ear discomfort. Some people have difficulty equalizing the pressure in their ears during pressurization, which is the same sensation you experience when a plane is taking off or landing. Barotrauma risk increases with higher atmospheric pressures. To mitigate this risk, our suites are pressurized only to the levels required for the Aviv hyperbaric protocol.
A member of our experienced hyperbaric staff is inside the chamber during every dive. These clinical professionals are trained to assist clients with equalizing their ear pressure. They are also prepared to recognize and react if any client begins to experience an adverse event.
When choosing an HBOT facility there are essential safety factors to consider:
The Safety of Different Types of HBOT Chambers
HBOT chambers are complex pieces of medical technology designed to deliver oxygen to patients at higher-than-normal atmospheric pressure. These chambers are classified as either monoplace or multiplace.
Monoplace HBOT Chambers
Monoplace chambers are hard-sided, cylindrical single-person chambers that are typically 8 feet long and three to three and a half feet in diameter with walls made of a clear, rigid plexiglass. Typically found in wound clinics, these monoplace chambers are pressurized to an atmospheric level that is prescribed by a patient’s physician. While effective for many conditions, these chambers can be uncomfortable as the patient is confined to one position for the duration of the treatment.
The physical structure of monoplace chambers also separates patients from clinicians during the HBOT treatment. A depressurization process must take place before the patient can be released from the chamber for treatment of an emergency—which takes time.
Additionally, because the chamber itself is filled with highly flammable oxygen, fire safety is of significant importance. Treatment in any type of hyperbaric chamber should only be administered when supervised by medical professionals with specialized training in hyperbaric medicine and safety to reduce the potential risk of fire.
Soft-Sided HBOT Chambers (“Mild HBOT”)
Soft-sided monoplace chambers, also referred to as bag chambers, are often marketed as “mild HBOT,” but in actuality offer very little therapeutic effect. These bag chambers are often found in sports medicine clinics and used by athletes for anti-inflammation and workout or performance recovery. Soft-sided chambers are not able to produce an increase in atmospheric pressure significant enough for medical HBOT treatment.
Because of the use of oxygen, soft-sided chambers carry the same risk of fire as rigid monoplace chambers, however clinics that offer “mild HBOT” often don’t meet regulatory or fire safety code requirements established for pressurized vessels.
Multiplace HBOT Chambers
Multiplace chambers are large, pressurized rooms that can accommodate multiple patients breathing 100% oxygen through a hood or mask. The spaciousness and capacity of this type of chamber helps dispel the feelings of claustrophobia and isolation that are often associated with monoplace (single patient) chambers.
When being treated in a multiplace chamber, a trained medical professional is able to remain with the patient throughout the course of the treatment, or “dive.” This provides a significant health and safety advantage, by allowing clinicians to monitor patients during the treatment and administer immediate medical attention, if necessary.
Temperature-controlled and roomy enough to allow patients to stand, stretch, and move around, multiplace chambers also offer a substantial comfort advantage over single patient chambers.
Although equipped with fire suppression systems, fire risk is lower in multiplace chambers because oxygen is dispensed through hoods, masks and connection tubes. The entire room-sized chamber is compressed with medical-grade air rather than oxygen, thus creating a much safer environment than smaller monoplace chambers.
Aviv Clinics utilizes state-of-the-art multiplace hyperbaric suites that meet or exceed all safety standards. Aviv’s advanced HBOT suites provide first-class comfort and technology that no other provider can offer.
Tips for ensuring a safe HBOT experience
While HBOT is an effective and safe intervention for a variety of conditions, there are some instances in which a person should not participate in hyperbaric treatments. These include an untreated pneumothorax (collapsed lung), pregnancy, or some active cancers. All conditions, including medical implants and seizure disorders, should be assessed by a physician before determining if HBOT treatment is appropriate.
Adherence to safety protocols during treatment is also important. Because of the risk of fire in an enclosed environment with increased oxygen, watches and jewelry, matches and lighters, and electronic devices should not be brought into the chamber. Patients should also refrain from using perfume, cosmetics, hair products, lotions, and other chemical-based health and beauty aids, such as perfume and cologne. Additionally, synthetic fibers which may cause static electricity, should not be worn.
At Aviv Clinics, our three-day pre-assessment screens clients for possible contraindications or safety concerns. All clients are briefed in advance of their first dive with information on hyperbaric safety and policies. Additionally, each of our clients receives specialized clothing to wear in the chamber to ensure their safety and the safety of others. All clients have access to our changing rooms, which are equipped with lockers for storing any personal items not allowed in our state-of-the-art hyperbaric suites.
Aviv Clinics’ HBOT protocol
The proper combination of oxygen and atmospheric pressure is vital to ensure the safety and effectiveness of treatments and prevent oxygen toxicity. Also called oxygen poisoning, oxygen toxicity results from breathing in too much oxygen. The risk of developing this condition is an important reason to avoid hyperbaric treatments at spas and other non-medical facilities.
Aviv Clinics’ unique HBOT protocol has the lowest risk of developing oxygen toxicity. Aviv Clinics operates under the guidance of co-founder and chair of the Aviv Scientific medical advisory board, Dr. Shai Efrati. Dr. Efrati is head of the world’s largest hyperbaric research and treatment facility, the Sagol Center, in Israel. Dr. Efrati, his colleagues, and the Aviv clinical team have spent more than a decade researching and developing the Aviv hyperbaric protocol. Aviv uses this scientifically proven HBOT protocol as a safe, therapeutic intervention for many conditions.
Aviv’s precise protocols, designed to optimize oxygen and pressure levels, spark a regenerative process in the body. Unique in approach, the Aviv protocol consists of immersing people in a high-pressure, environment while carefully fluctuating oxygen levels. This technique induces a reaction called the hyperoxic-hypoxic paradox. In essence, Aviv’s protocol “tricks” the body into entering a regenerative state, unleashing a cascade of biological changes. These include the proliferation of stem cells, the generation of new blood vessels, and the repair of non-necrotic injured brain cells and tissue.
In addition to safe, precise HBOT protocols, Aviv follows strict operational protocols, including pre-HBOT evaluations and in-chamber monitoring, to ensure patient safety. Candidates undergo pre-evaluation to assess suitability for treatment and treatment is optimized based on evaluation results.
Aviv Clinics’ HBOT expertise
The Aviv team is anchored by experienced, trained, certified physicians, clinicians and safety teams at the forefront of hyperbaric medicine. These HBOT specialists are complimented by highly skilled neuropsychologists, physiologists and nutritionists who work together to develop a personalized treatment plan that caters to each patient’s unique needs.
This multidisciplinary team drives Aviv’s unique medical program, combining HBOT with cognitive training, fitness training, and nutrition coaching to help improve the quality of life for people who are living with the after-effects of a range of brain and age-related conditions.
The Aviv Medical Program was developed with uncompromised safety and client experience in mind.