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Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is a treatment to increase a person's blood oxygen level, which can prevent tissue death, promote healing, and help fight infection. This treatment involves a person being in an enclosed chamber while 100% oxygen is pumped in at high pressure.
The purpose of oxygen therapy for the treatment of carbon monoxide poisoning is to reduce the amount of carbon monoxide in the blood and restore the oxygen level to normal as quickly as possible and hopefully prevent delayed cognitive problems.
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy may be used to treat other conditions such as diabetic ulcers, some infections, burns, decompression sickness, and other kinds of injuries.
For hyperbaric oxygen therapy, the affected person lies down on a stretcher that slides into an acrylic tube. The pressure inside the tube is raised, and 100% oxygen is delivered under high pressure. After treatment, the chamber is depressurized slowly while the person rests inside.
A person typically recovers from carbon monoxide poisoning within a few days, depending on the severity of the case. It's important to remember that long-term effects may occur days or weeks after carbon monoxide poisoning.
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:
Treatments may be repeated depending on how well the first treatment works. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy may also be used to treat other conditions such as diabetic ulcers, some infections, burns, decompression sickness, and other kinds of injuries.
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.footnote 1, footnote 2
Pregnant women who are exposed to carbon monoxide also expose their unborn baby (fetus) to carbon monoxide. A fetus has a higher risk of carbon monoxide poisoning because it takes longer for the gas to leave fetal blood than the mother's blood. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy helps lower the level of carbon monoxide in an unborn baby's blood faster than oxygen therapy at normal pressure. The chance of having a healthy baby after carbon monoxide poisoning is higher when the mother has hyperbaric oxygen therapy.
Risks of hyperbaric oxygen therapy may include ear pain, rupture of the eardrum, sinus discomfort, a bloody nose, and in very rare cases, seizure or problems from too much oxygen.
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy chambers are located only at specialty medical centres or major hospitals.
CitationsWeaver LK, et al. (2002). Hyperbaric oxygen for acute carbon monoxide poisoning. New England Journal of Medicine, 347(14): 1057–1067.Buckley NA, et al. (2011). Hyperbaric oxygen for carbon monoxide poisoning. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews (4).Kao LW, Nanagas KA (2005). Carbon monoxide poisoning. Medical Clinics of North America, 89(6): 1161–1194.
Adaptation Date: 5/6/2021
Adapted By: Alberta Health Services
Adaptation Reviewed By: Alberta Health Services
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