Hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) is a medical treatment that can be traced back to the 1600s. In 1662, the first renowned chamber was built and operated by a British clergyman named Henshaw. He erected a structure titled, the Domicilium, which was used to treat a variety of conditions.
In 1878, Paul Bert, a French physiologist, discovered the link between decompression sickness and nitrogen bubbles. Bert later identified that the pain could be ameliorated with recompression. The concept of treating patients under pressurized conditions was continued by the French surgeon Fontaine, who later built a pressurized mobile operating room in 1879.
Fontaine found that inhaled nitrous oxide had a greater potency under pressure, in addition to his patients having improved oxygenation. In the early 1900’s Dr. Orville Cunningham, a professor of anesthesia observed that people with particular heart diseases improved better when they lived closer to sea level than those living at higher altitudes. He treated a colleague who was suffering from influenza and was near death due to lung restriction. His resounding success led him to develop what was known as the “Steel Ball Hospital” located along the shore of Lake Erie.The six-story structure was erected in 1928 and was 64 feet in diameter. The hospital could reach 3 atmospheres absolute. Unfortunately, due to the depressed financial status of the economy, it was deconstructed in 1942 for scrap. Subsequently, hyperbaric chambers were later developed by the military in the 1940s to treat deep-sea divers who suffered from decompression sickness.
In the 1950s, physicians first employed HBOT during heart and lung surgery, which led to its use for carbon monoxide poisoning in the 1960s. Since then, over 10,000 clinical trials and case studies have been completed for numerous other health-related applications with the vast majority of results reporting resounding success. Commonly referred to as HBOT, hyperbaric oxygen therapy enhances the body’s natural healing process by delivering oxygen under pressure, which increases the oxygen content in the blood, plasma, cerebral spinal fluid, and other body tissues. There are two basic types of HBOT—hard HBOT and mild HBOT. With hard HBOT, treatments are delivered in a hard-sided chamber typically at pressures greater than 1.5 ATA and using 100% oxygen. 100% oxygen is extremely flammable; therefore, hard HBOT involves managing the risk of explosion.
Another concern with hard HBOT is oxygen toxicity. While hard HBOT with 100% oxygen results in only slightly greater oxygen saturation in the tissues, many conditions respond better to mild HBOT. In clinical trials to date, there has been virtually no difference in clinical outcome between mild HBOT and Medical HBOT. Mild HBOT refers to hyperbaric oxygen therapy at lower pressures, typically 1.5 ATA or below, and the use of an oxygen concentrator delivering 90-95% oxygen via cannula with a 40% ambient air concentration inside a chamber. Mild HBOT has no known safety risks with fire or toxicity, and it is substantially less expensive.