The number of medical facilities offering hyperbaric oxygen therapy jumped over the last 50 years. Back in the 1970s, approximately 27 facilities offered HBOT nationwide. As researchers learned about the benefits of HBOT, more and more facilities began offering treatments with hyperbaric chambers. Recent reports state as many as 1,800 to 2,000 hospitals offer hyperbaric treatments in the United States. This is in addition to between 500 and 700 non-hospital-based clinics or medical practices. And this doesn’t even count the amount of soft-sided hyperbaric chambers people own in their own homes.

New research continues to show the benefits of hyperbaric oxygen therapy in a variety of FDA-approved and off-label medical conditions. This creates a great new medical treatment option for many patients. But it also creates an opening for large profits at the expense of patients. Soft-sided hyperbaric chambers offer patients the ability to purchase a chamber for use at home. Unfortunately, not all chambers are equal. Soft-sided chambers do not offer the same benefits and can, in some cases, make things worse.

Hard Hyperbaric Oxygen Chambers

In hospitals and clinics, physicians use hard-shell hyperbaric oxygen chambers. These chambers are medical-grade devices and FDA-approved for the treatment of 14 conditions. In addition, they show positive results in studies for many, many more conditions. Hard-shell chambers are steel-enclosed chambers that deliver 100 percent oxygen at atmospheric pressures above 2.0 ATA. Installation of these chambers in a medical facility requires meeting various building regulations, including NFPA-99 from the National Fire Protection Association.

A portable oxygen chamber

Soft-Sided Hyperbaric Chambers

Soft-sided chambers, known as mild HBOT or mHBOT, are portable chambers that seal with a zipper. They can reach pressure levels around 1.3 ATA and typically deliver 24 percent oxygen levels. Originally designed for divers and mountain climbers to use until they could transport to a hard-sided chamber, the intention was never to use soft-sided chambers for treatment.

The Levels of Oxygen Do Not Compare

Arterial blood gas level chart

The big difference between hard and soft chambers comes when we talk about oxygen concentration into the body. To get a better understanding of this, as you read this, you are breathing in room air with a concentration of 21 percent oxygen. A soft-sided chamber utilizes 24 percent oxygen. In contrast, when you see people transported in an ambulance and hooked up to an oxygen mask, they are receiving 55 percent oxygen. Hard-shell hyperbaric chambers deliver 100 percent oxygen. These numbers don’t even consider the pressure level differences.

To go more in-depth, let’s look at arterial blood gas levels that show oxygen in the blood. In normal air conditions and at normal pressure, your blood oxygen is going to read 157 mmHg. However, in a soft-sided chamber at 1.3 ATA and 24 percent oxygen, your number rises to 230 mmHg. An oxygen mask, like those used in ambulance transport, delivers 55 percent oxygen at normal pressure and gives you 418 mmHg. Of course, the real difference occurs in a hard-shell chamber. With a hard-shell chamber at 2.4 ATA and 100 percent oxygen, your arterial oxygen levels reach 1,824 mmHg.

The idea behind hyperbaric oxygen therapy and its success as a treatment option depend on flooding the body with higher levels of oxygen. Unfortunately, you see that soft-sided chambers don’t really offer much more than the air you naturally breathe. In all honesty, you receive more benefit from a simple oxygen mask.

Soft-Sided Chambers Fall Short

While hyperbaric oxygen therapy is FDA-approved for the treatment of 14 conditions currently, many conditions have been treated off-label with great success both in medical clinic environments as well as in numerous clinical studies, showing that flooding the body with high levels of oxygen can heal and, in many cases, return quality of life to many patients. However, in all these studies the administration of oxygen has been at 100 percent and at pressure levels of 2.0 ATA or higher.

To date, no real studies have looked at the benefit of mild hyperbaric, or low oxygen therapy. And given the numbers, the oxygen levels they provide aren’t much different than what you breathe in normally. Soft-sided chambers are not FDA-approved as a medical device for the use in hyperbaric oxygen therapy, except for the use by climbers and divers with altitude sickness during transport to a medical facility with a hyperbaric chamber.

When Your Treatment Causes More Problems

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy treats non-healing wounds as well as bacterial, viral, and fungal infections. Scientific research shows that oxygen becomes bacteriostatic at 1.5 ATA. This means that at levels above 1.5 ATA, the oxygen prevents bacterial and fungal growth. With hard-shell hyperbaric oxygen therapy, pressure levels are typically over 2.0 ATA, making it successful in the suppression of bacterial growth. Unfortunately, with average levels of 1.3 ATA, soft-sided chambers cannot suppress bacterial growth. On the contrary, they enhance the growth of bacteria, mold, and fungus. Exposure to bacteria, mold, and fungus make conditions worse or lead to additional medical complications.

What We Use for Our Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy Treatments

Here, Dr. Spiegel and his team treat patients with the top-quality hard-shell chambers. Sechrist Industries is an industry leader in hyperbaric chambers, making them for over 35 years. Our chambers, Sechrist 3200, is a pneumatically controlled system offering a 32-inch inside diameter, making it spacious and comfortable for our patients. This chamber allows for full patient monitoring during oxygen treatments and features a patient entertainment system. In addition, our system offers a two-way intercom system, making communication easy during the procedure.

If you would like more information on our chambers, what they offer, and how hyperbaric oxygen therapy can help treat your medical condition, please give us a call today to set up an initial consultation with Dr. Spiegel and his team or click HERE to fill out our online information request form.