Frequently Asked Questions About Hyperbaric Medicine

Dr. Peter Colaprete, a board-certified hyperbarist and the medical director of Sharp Grossmont Hospital's Hyperbaric Medicine Center, answers frequently asked questions about hyperbaric oxygen therapy.

Why does a patient have to go all the way inside the hyperbaric chamber instead of just putting oxygen over the wound?
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is not a topical oxygen treatment. The patient has to breathe the pressurized oxygen, which the body uses to grow new tissue and fight infection.

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Why can't a patient just breathe pure oxygen at sea level and get the same effect?
Oxygen is carried throughout the body by red blood cells, which are normally carrying all that they can carry. By breathing 100 percent oxygen under pressure inside a hyperbaric chamber, a person can absorb more oxygen into the bloodstream. The body then uses this extra oxygen wherever it is needed the most.

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Are there any adverse side effects?
After a number of treatments, a patient may notice a slight, temporary change in vision, but this should return to normal after the treatments are finished. Occasionally, a patient may have difficulty equalizing their ears, but this is easily resolved with the placement of pressure equalization tubes. Most people find the sensation in their ears similar to when they ride in an airplane.

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How does a patient get a referral to the Hyperbaric Medicine Center?
First, the patient must have one of the conditions approved by the Undersea and Hyperbaric Medical Society. To see a list of the approved conditions, please visit conditions commonly treated with hyperbaric oxygen therapy. Then, the patient must get a referral from their primary care or specialist physician. Finally a hyperbaric physician will consult with the patient to determine if hyperbaric oxygen therapy is appropriate for the condition.

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For More Information
To learn more about Sharp's hyperbarics services or to find a Sharp-affiliated physician, search for San Diego doctors or call 1-800-82-SHARP (1-800-827-4277), Monday through Friday, 8 am to 6 pm, or call the program directly at 619-740-4160.