Hyperbaric Conditions We Treat

The Undersea and Hyperbaric Medical Society (UHMS) considers 15 conditions — including radiation tissue injuries — to be appropriate for hyperbaric oxygen therapy. This means that scientific evidence shows that hyperbaric treatment can be effective for patients with these conditions.

Hyperbaric patient with provider

With rare exceptions, Virginia Mason's Center for Hyperbaric Medicine only treats patients with one or more of these 15 conditions. You can learn about these conditions below or through the UHMS website.

  • Delayed Radiation Injury
  • Air or Gas Embolism
  • Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
  • Clostridial Myositis and Myonecrosis (Gas Gangrene)
  • Crush Injury
  • Decompression Sickness (the Bends)
  • Selected Nonhealing Diabetic Wounds
  • Exceptional Anemia
  • Sudden Idiopathic Hearing Loss
  • Sudden Vision Loss from Central Retinal Artery Occlusion
  • Intracranial Abscess
  • Necrotizing Soft Tissue Infections
  • Refractory Osteomyelitis
  • Compromised Skin Grafts and Flaps
  • Thermal Burns

Air or Gas Embolism

An air or gas embolism occurs when gas bubbles enter the blood vessels and obstruct blood flow. This is usually caused by a scuba diving accident. Hyperbaric treatments compress the bubbles, restoring blood flow and oxygen to vital organs. Learn more about air or gas embolism.

Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless gas produced by cars, boats, barbecues, generators and house fires. Carbon monoxide is poisonous when it’s inhaled. Poisoning can range from mild to fatal. Hyperbaric oxygen treatment is used for severe cases and can quickly clear carbon monoxide from the body, reducing risk of long-term neurological complications. Learn more about carbon monoxide poisoning.

Selected Nonhealing Diabetic Wounds

Some chronic wounds fail to heal because of a lack of oxygen, especially in patients with some types of severe diabetic wounds. These wounds need good wound care and evaluation of circulation. Some diabetic wounds may need hyperbaric oxygen therapy and may require 30 to 40 hyperbaric treatments. This can help wounds heal and decrease the risk of amputation. Learn more about chronic wounds.

Clostridial Myositis and Myonecrosis (Gas Gangrene)

Gas gangrene is a severe tissue infection caused by bacteria called clostridia. It is usually caused when a wound becomes contaminated. Along with surgery and antibiotics, hyperbaric oxygen therapy can be used to slow how the bacteria spread and grow. Learn more about gas gangrene.

Crush Injury

Crush injuries occur when legs or arms are severely crushed in car crashes or other accidents. These injuries may reduce blood flow and oxygen to muscles and tissue. The primary treatment is surgery. Hyperbaric treatment can be used to help the body carry oxygen to damaged tissues and potentially help them heal. Learn more about crush injury, compartment syndrome and other acute ischemias.

Decompression Sickness (the Bends)

Decompression sickness – also called "the bends" — can affect scuba divers and is caused when the body absorbs too much oxygen and nitrogen while underwater. It is often caused by staying underwater too long or coming to the surface too fast. Common symptoms include joint pain, numbness and tingling. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy compresses the nitrogen and oxygen bubbles and helps them exit tissue and blood vessels. Learn more about decompression sickness.

Exceptional Anemia

Red blood cells carry oxygen to the body’s tissues and organs. If a person is severely anemic (low red blood cell count), the tissues are deprived of oxygen. The standard treatment is a blood transfusion. In rare cases, hyperbaric treatment is used to increase oxygen in blood and tissues, helping sustain patients waiting for a blood transfusion. Learn more about exceptional anemia.

Intracranial Abscess

Intracranial abscess is a pocket of bacterial infection in the brain. It is often caused by anaerobic bacteria — bacteria that thrive in areas where there is little oxygen. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy kill these bacteria and can be helpful when antibiotics don't work or surgery cannot be performed. Learn more about intracranial abscess.

Necrotizing Soft Tissue Infections

Necrotizing soft tissue infections — including gas gangrene and necrotizing fasciitis — are severe bacterial infections that can occur after trauma or surgery for diabetes or other conditions. Standard treatment includes antibiotics and surgery to remove infected tissue. Hyperbaric treatment can reduce the need for additional surgery by inhibiting infections. Learn more about necrotizing fasciitis and gas gangrene.

Refractory Osteomyelitis

Osteomyelitis is a bone infection. Standard treatment includes surgery and antibiotics. When these treatments are ineffective, hyperbaric therapy can kill or inhibit the bacteria that contribute to the infection. Learn more about refractory osteomyelitis.

Radiation Tissue Injury

Radiation therapy kills cancer cells, but it can also injure normal tissue months or even years after treatment. Radiation destroys small blood vessels, reducing the oxygen that reaches tissue. This makes it harder for tissue to repair itself. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy can help the body grow new blood vessels and carry oxygen to radiation injuries. Hyperbaric treatments can be especially helpful for wounds in radiated skin, head and neck radiation injury, and bowel or bladder radiation tissue injury. Learn more about radiation tissue injury and delayed radiation tissue injury following cancer therapy.

Compromised Skin Grafts and Flaps

Skin grafts and flaps are used to cover wounds by transferring skin or tissue from another part of the body. Sometimes, the blood supply to the graft or flap does not provide sufficient oxygen to the cells. This can compromise the graft. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy can deliver extra oxygen to the compromised tissue and potentially keep it alive until new blood vessels grow to support it. Learn more about skin grafts and flaps.

Thermal Burns

Thermal burns can lead to swelling that deprives tissue of oxygen. This can make the tissue die. Hyperbaric oxygen treatment can reduce swelling and help oxygen travel to the burn area. This can contain the injury and reduce the amount of surgery needed to remove burned tissue. However, hyperbaric treatment for thermal burns is usually only given when the hyperbaric chamber is adjacent to the burn unit. Learn more about thermal burns.