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  • Hyperbaric Wellness Center

Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy for Decompression Sickness as well as Air and Gas Embolisms

Updated: Mar 24

Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT) represents a critical treatment modality for two serious conditions often encountered in diving and certain medical scenarios: Decompression Sickness (DCS) and Air or Gas Embolisms (AGE). This article delves into how HBOT operates as a treatment for these conditions, underpinning its efficacy with scientific rationale and clinical outcomes.

Understanding HBOT

Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy involves administering 100% oxygen at pressures greater than atmospheric pressure in a specialized chamber. This process significantly increases the amount of oxygen dissolved in the blood, which can then be delivered to tissues at higher concentrations than under normal atmospheric conditions.

Treating Decompression Sickness with HBOT

Decompression Sickness, often associated with diving, occurs when nitrogen bubbles form in the blood and tissues due to rapid decreases in pressure during ascent. HBOT treats DCS by increasing the pressure, which reduces the size of the nitrogen bubbles, and by flooding the body with oxygen, which helps to replace nitrogen in the tissues, allowing the bubbles to dissolve more rapidly. Additionally, the high levels of oxygen help to repair damaged tissues and reduce inflammation.

A meta-analysis by Bennett et al. (2012) in the "Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews" highlights the efficacy of HBOT in managing DCS, demonstrating improved outcomes in DCS patients treated with HBOT compared to those who received standard oxygen therapy at surface pressure.

Addressing Air and Gas Embolisms with HBOT

Air or Gas Embolisms occur when air bubbles enter the circulatory system, obstructing blood flow to various organs, including the brain, heart, and lungs. This can happen due to diving accidents, surgical procedures, or trauma. HBOT is effective in treating AGE by reducing the size of air bubbles in the blood, thereby alleviating vascular blockages. Like with DCS, the increased oxygen levels under hyperbaric conditions also promote healing of the affected tissues by enhancing oxygen delivery and suppressing inflammation.

Research by Muth and Shank (2000) in "Emergency Medicine Clinics of North America" outlines the therapeutic mechanisms of HBOT in treating AGE, emphasizing its role in minimizing the bubble size and supporting tissue recovery through hyperoxygenation.

Clinical Considerations and Safety

While HBOT is a potent treatment for DCS and AGE, it's crucial to conduct a thorough assessment to identify any contraindications, such as certain lung diseases or a history of ear surgery, which could make the therapy unsafe for some patients. The treatment protocols—duration and pressure of HBOT sessions—vary based on the severity of the condition and the patient's response to therapy.


Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy stands as a cornerstone in the treatment of Decompression Sickness and Air or Gas Embolisms, leveraging the physiological benefits of hyperoxygenation to resolve nitrogen bubbles and air embolisms while promoting tissue repair and reducing inflammation. Its application, backed by scientific evidence and clinical practice, underscores the importance of specialized treatment strategies in managing these potentially life-threatening conditions.

For individuals or healthcare providers seeking detailed insights and guidelines on HBOT for DCS and AGE, consulting the Undersea and Hyperbaric Medical Society (UHMS) and reviewing the latest clinical guidelines are recommended for the most current and comprehensive information.


  • Bennett MH, Weibel S, Wasiak J, Schnabel A, French C, Kranke P. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy for acute ischaemic stroke. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2012, Issue 11. Art. No.: CD004954.

  • Muth CM, Shank ES. Gas embolism. Emergency Medicine Clinics of North America. 2000 May;18(2):309-32.

These references serve as a foundation for understanding the application of HBOT in treating DCS and AGE. Further reading and consultation with medical professionals in the field of hyperbaric medicine are essential for those looking to explore this therapy in depth.

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