History of Hyperbaric Chambers - Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy

Hyperbaric Chambers and Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy - a History and More

Hyperbaric chambers are used for a mode of hyperbaric oxygen therapy in which the patient breathes 100 percent oxygen at pressures greater than normal atmospheric (sea level) pressure.

Hyperbaric chambers and hyperbaric oxygen therapy have been in use for centuries, as early as 1662. However, hyperbaric oxygen therapy has been used clinically since the mid 1800s. HBO was tested and developed by the U.S.

Military after World War I. It has been used safely since the 1930s to help treat deep sea divers with decompression sickness. Clinical trials in the 1950s uncovered a number of beneficial mechanisms from exposure to hyperbaric oxygen chambers. These experiments were the forerunners of contemporary applications of HBO in the clinical setting. In 1967, the Undersea and Hyperbaric Medical Society (UHMS) was founded to foster the exchange of data on the physiology and medicine of commercial and military diving. The Hyperbaric Oxygen Committee was developed by the UHMS in 1976 to oversee the ethical practice of hyperbaric medicine.


Oxygen was discovered independently by the Swedish apothecary Karl W. Scheele in 1772, and by the English amateur chemist Joseph Priestley (1733-1804) in August 1774. In 1783, the French physician Caillens was the first doctor reported to have used oxygen therapy as a remedy.

In 1798, the Pneumatic Institution for inhalation gas therapy was founded by Thomas Beddoes (1760-1808), a physician-philosopher, in Bristol, England. He employed Humphrey Davy (1778-1829), a brilliant young scientist as superintendent of the Institute, and the engineer James Watt (1736-1819), to help manufacture the gases.

The institute was an outgrowth of the new knowledge about gases (such as oxygen and nitrous oxide) and their manufacture. However, therapy was based on Beddoes' generally incorrect assumptions about disease; for example, Beddoes assumed that some diseases would naturally respond to a higher or lower oxygen concentration. As might be expected, the treatments offered no real clinical benefit, and the Institute succumbed in 1802.

How Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy Works

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy involves breathing pure oxygen in a pressurized room or tube. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy has long been used to treat decompression sickness, a hazard of scuba diving. Other conditions treated with hyperbaric oxygen therapy include serious infections, bubbles of air in your blood vessels, and wounds that won't heal as a result of diabetes or radiation injury.

In a hyperbaric oxygen therapy chamber, the air pressure is increased to three times higher than normal air pressure. When this happens, your lungs can gather more oxygen than would be possible breathing pure oxygen at normal air pressure.

Your blood then carries this oxygen throughout your body which helps fight bacteria and stimulate the release of substances called growth factors and stem cells, which promote healing.

Your body's tissues need an adequate supply of oxygen to function. When tissue is injured, it requires even more oxygen to survive. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy increases the amount of oxygen your blood can carry. An increase in blood oxygen temporarily restores normal levels of blood gases and tissue function to promote healing and fight infection.