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  • Center for hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) and diving medicine

Side effects and contraindications of hyperbaric medicine

Hyperbaric medical treatments can have side effects. It is our absolute top priority to inform you fully about possible side effects and how to avoid them.

The following section presents details of the relatively few side effects and gives insights into measures which we as the medical practitioners, and you as the concerned/interested party can do. This means you can discuss issues with our doctors as a fully informed party. Basically, hyperbaric oxygen therapy is a procedure with very few complications provided all safety aspects are complied with and when based on detailed preliminary examinations and ongoing monitoring.

Side effects

Most of the side effects and complications described here occur only very rarely, are temporary in effect and can be almost completely avoided by providing conscientious and full details of your existing illnesses and medical history and by following instructions (e.g. pressure equalisation).

Serious or permanent side effects are extremely rare. Patients with increased risk are excluded prior to treatment.

In the case of problems during pressure equalisation (i.e. during the increase in and reduction of the pressure in the chamber) it is possible for closed, air-filled cavities in the body and adjacent structures to be damaged by pressure differences (baro trauma). For example, the ear drum could be damaged or pain could occur in the sinuses. The risk of a ruptured lung is extremely small and is almost completely avoided by the previous thorough physical examination (to check suitability for hyperbaric chamber therapy). Patients with bronchitis, asthma or for example emphysema have a higher risk of lung/pulmonary complications and should advise us accordingly prior to treatment.

It is possible for transient oxygen sensitivity of the brain to occur (oxygen convulsion, numbness). These problems are always reversible and do not have any consequences. In general the intermittent application of oxygen pre-empts oxygen oversensitivity. Intermittent application has actually reduced the frequency of cerebral oxygen intoxication to less than 1:10,000.

Temporary visual impairment (e.g. myopia / hyperopia / lens opacity) is possible over longer treatment series and requires no further action because it is self-limiting and passes within only a few weeks.


It is possible that the effects of concurrent antibiotic treatment courses, radiation therapies or chemotherapies are exacerbated by hyperbaric oxygen therapy. Any pre-existing complaints and concurrent treatments should be advised to the hyperbaric physician at time of first meeting.

Removable aids (e.g. hearing aids) must be removed beforehand or can only be worn during the hyperbaric treatment with the approval of the hyperbaric physician. Any non-removable aids (e.g. pacemakers, infusion pumps) generally require a prior specific review. The hyperbaric physician should be advised beforehand of any breast or testicular prostheses, although generally speaking they do not represent a contraindication.

In order to prevent hypoglycaemia (reduced blood sugar levels) a light meal should be taken before treatment or you should request a snack from our attending staff.

Drinking of alcohol prior to treatment is prohibited because of the risk of neurological complications.


A distinction is made between absolute and relative contraindications with respect to HBO treatment.

Absolute contraindications include untreated pneumothorax and certain chemotherapies (bleomycin, cisplatin, doxorubicin).

Relative contraindications include for example pregnancy, epilepsy, severe claustrophobia, acute infections (in particular of the upper respiratory tract), chronic sinus infections and uncontrolled high fever.

The guidelines issued by the GTÜM, EUBS and UHMS do not specify the existence of any contraindications for emergency hyperbaric treatments.

Contact Details

Centre for hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) and diving medicine