Which Chamber is Right for You?
There are two general styles of hyperbaric chambers in clinical use - one person "monoplace" chambers and larger multiple person "multiplace" chambers. While the therapy delivered is similar, there are definite differences in the treatment experience for patients.
Monoplace Hyberbaric Chambers
Monoplace chambers are clear acrylic tubes, generally ranging in diameter from 28-34 inches. The patient lies on a tray that slides out from one end. Once the patient is moved inside, the end door is locked and the chamber typically pressurized with oxygen. A potential advantage to this type of chamber is that the patient can look through the hull to watch television during the treatment. On the other hand, claustrophobia can be a significant problem with monoplace chambers. Up to 10% of patients could not be treated in the early 25-inch monoplace chambers because of the anxiety that the small space caused. Newer chambers of larger diameters have helped this to a degree. Another potential problem is that patients who cannot lie flat on their back for 90-120 minutes may have difficulty tolerating treatment in a monoplace chamber.
Multiplace Hyperbaric Chambers
Multiplace chambers, like the one at Virginia Mason, are large and made of steel. The Virginia Mason chamber is 10 feet, 1 inch in diameter, approximately the same as a Boeing 737 jet. It is 46 feet long and has two large treatment compartments (locks), each capable of treating 8 patients who are accompanied into the chamber by a nurse. Patients walk into the chamber like they are boarding a plane flight and sit in large recliner chairs. For fire safety purposes, the chamber is pressurized with air and the patients breathe oxygen from comfortable delivery systems called "oxygen hoods".
Patients are rarely claustrophobic in a chamber the size of the one at Virginia Mason since most people can fly on a commercial jet without difficulty. The recliner chairs make it reminiscent of a first class plane flight. In a multiplace chamber, the patients may bring reading materials such as book and magazines. These are not allowed in an oxygen-filled monoplace chamber because of fire risk.
If patients have trouble clearing their ears when the pressure changes, there is a nurse inside the multiplace chamber to help with this or any other issues which may arise. Patients may sit upright or lie flat as they choose, simply by asking the nurse to adjust their recliner. If they need to use the restroom during the 2-hour treatment, the Virginia Mason chamber has a connecting private compartment with a portable toilet.
Perhaps the biggest advantage to being treated in a multiplace chamber like Virginia Mason's is the fact that the patient goes into the chamber with other patients and they quickly become friends during a course of daily hyperbaric treatments. This does not occur in monoplace treatment where the patient is locked away from others and isolated. Companionship in the multiplace treatment experience lends to both camaraderie and support, especially when patients are able to meet and talk with others who are being treated for the same condition. The patients often form a spontaneous support group for each other and sometimes develop long-term friendships.