Is Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy Voodoo Medicine?



Hyperbaric Medicine, also known as Hyperbaric Oxygen (HBO) therapy has been used for over 400 years. It is defined as administration of 100 percent oxygen to a patient placed inside a chamber pressurized to greater than atmospheric pressure.

There are many claims that it can be used to treat a variety of diseases and conditions that are just untrue, and poorly supported by science. This selling of HBO as a false hope to patients with serious conditions has damaged the perception of HBO as a credible therapy in the medical community. But is HBO really a Voodoo medicine?

Not at all. When used properly, it is highly effective.

My colleagues and I feel that the use of HBO therapy beyond what has been proven as meaningful with valid scientific reasoning determined by clinically evaluated and controlled peer-reviewed studies is a misuse of this therapy. I want to set the record straight regarding the proper use of HBO therapy that has scientific backing.

Although there may be clinical trials going on right now to explore how HBO could be used to treat some diseases and conditions, HBO should NOT be considered standard treatment protocol for the following conditions:

  • AIDS
  • Autism
  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Myocardial infarction
  • Near drowning
  • Brown recluse spider bites
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Chronic fatigue syndrome
  • Lyme disease
  • Macular degeneration
  • Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD) syndrome
  • Sports injuries
  • Stroke
  • Traumatic brain injuries

However, there is ample sound scientific evidence to support the use of HBO therapy as a meaningful treatment for many diseases and conditions:

  • Delayed radiation injury
    • Bone
    • Jaw
    • Teeth
    • Abdominal cavity
    • Bladder
    • Skin
    • Brain
  • Diabetic foot ulcers
  • Chronic refractory osteomyelitis
  • Gas gangrene
  • Necrotizing soft tissue infections
  • Intracranial abscess
  • Mucormycosis (a fungal illness)
  • Compromised flaps and grafts
  • Central retinal artery occlusion
  • Sudden sensorineural hearing loss
  • Burns
  • Frostbite
  • Compartment syndrome
  • Crush injury
  • Reimplantation of fingers, toes and limbs
  • Carbon monoxide poisoning
  • Acute blood loss anemia
  • Decompression sickness
  • Arterial gas embolism

hyperbaric-medicineAt The Nebraska Medical Center, my colleagues and I administer medically approved HBO therapy center for many conditions, including these five most common:

  • Delayed radiation injury – damaged tissue around a part of the body that has been treated with radiation
  • Diabetic foot ulcers
  • Carbon monoxide poisonings
  • Necrotizing infections like gas gangrene or the flesh eating bacteria
  • Skin grafts and flaps that are not healing properly

We work closely with wound care physicians, plastic and vascular surgeons in dealing with diabetic foot ulcers and problem grafts and flaps.  The Nebraska Medical Center Hyperbaric Medicine Center is the only facility in the region able to provide HBO therapy to the critical care patients, available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Typically, a physician referral is needed to receive HBO therapy. I encourage you to speak with your primary care physician if you or someone you know has a condition that can be effectively treated with HBO therapy. To transfer a patient to The Nebraska Medical Center visit this website or call 800-258-0029.

Jeffrey Cooper, MD

Emergency Medicine Physician

The Nebraska Medical Center

3 Responses to “Is Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy Voodoo Medicine?”

  1. Franklin Hauck

    I had tongue cancer with successful surgery done at UNMC done January 13, 2012 and 5-6 weeks of radiation completed by May 1, 2012 with Dr. Zinn.

    Am told I will need 5 weeks of HBO so two mini screws can be implanted to retain the lower plate due to the flap added to fix the tongue.

    How do I get some info on costs of the HBO treatments? Probably will have to be self pay. Thanks! Frank Hauck

    • Paul Baltes

      Franklin, if there’s a nurse case manager you’ve been working with, she would probably know the best way to answer that. You could also call the HBO center directly at 800-258-0029. They’d be happy to help answer your questions.

  2. Tamara Watson

    The blog has described almost about all the diseases can be treated with hyperbaric therapy. But what about the neurological disorders?

    According to the CDC data report, 1 out of 68 children is with autistic disabilities. Many parents of autistic children said that along with the other intervention processes HBOT (Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy) was effective to reduce autism, though hyperbaric chambers and therapy are costly for the common people.

    So, if you have anything to focus on this matter, it will earn a good value and helpful as well.


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