Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is an innovative medical treatment that involves patients breathing 100% oxygen at a higher-than-normal atmospheric pressure, delivered through a device called a hyperbaric chamber.
What Exactly is a Hyperbaric Chamber?
In short, a hyperbaric chamber is a pressurized vessel.
The amount of pressure applied during a treatment session depends on several factors specific to the patient, including the condition being treated and the patient’s response to treatment. Patients are treated either in an individual chamber, called a monoplace hyperbaric chamber, or in one that can hold several people, called a multiplace hyperbaric chamber. An alternative to a traditional monoplace chamber is a device called a "mild," or “soft," chamber. However, it differs in its delivery scope, use, and effectiveness.
Monoplace and multiplace hyperbaric chambers are FDA-approved for 14 different conditions, and many more indications have been or are currently being, studied using these chambers. Mild hyperbaric chambers, or "soft" chambers, are only FDA approved for Acute Mountain Sickness and have not been FDA approved for any other condition.
Monoplace Hyperbaric Chambers
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A monoplace hyperbaric chamber holds just one patient at a time. Lying inside a clear tube, patients breathe 100% medical grade oxygen, prescribed and supervised by a physician, at a specific atmospheric pressure for a designated amount of time. A specially trained hyperbaric technician monitors each patient from outside the chamber during treatment at all times.
Multiplace Hyperbaric Chambers
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A multiplace hyperbaric chamber holds more than one patient at a time. Depending on their individual needs, patients may sit in chairs or recline while receiving oxygen through face masks or hoods. During the treatment session, a hyperbaric technician accompanies patients into the chamber to monitor them directly, or perform procedures compatible with high atmospheric pressure.
Soft Hyperbaric Chambers
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Mild hyperbaric chambers, otherwise known as "soft" hyperbaric chambers, are “bags” made of polyurethane or canvas material. These chambers reach a much lower pressure and only compress room air, which contains about 21% oxygen vs. the 100% medical grade oxygen used in a traditional monoplace or multiplace hyperbaric chamber. Despite these key differences, “soft chambers” are often marketed as effective as the hard monoplace or multiplace chambers in a host of conditions, even if these claims have not been studied or proven. Users of in-home soft hyperbaric chambers are advised to take precautions, speak to an expert, and make sure they are supervised each time they get into the chamber.