Hyperbaric oxygen. A therapy in search of diseases

Chest. 1987 Dec;92(6):1074-82. doi: 10.1378/chest.92.6.1074.


The application of HBO to the therapy of various human diseases developed over a 300 year period. Like most of medicine, the basis of these applications was and continues to be pragmatic in nature, and involves uncritical and untested judgments. The possibility of risks has been understated and possible benefits have been overstated. Individual physicians offering HBO and organized groups, such as the Undersea Medical Society, advocating its use may well be highly motivated, well meaning, and sincerely convinced that HBO is an important therapeutic approach. It may be that, buried among the host of indications, will be some disorders for which HBO is uniquely and highly effective. If so, the present nonsystem for evaluating responses to HBO will require modification, so that these potentially valuable additions to therapeutics are not lost. Because of its almost global application to a wide variety of diseases, HBO therapy lends itself easily to medical adventurism (therapy in search of a disease) and economic exploitation. If there is some patient benefit to come from the experience of the last 300 years, changes in approach, initiated by baromedical devotees or by medicine generally, or resulting from pressures outside of medicine, will be required.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Decompression Sickness / therapy
  • Humans
  • Hyperbaric Oxygenation / statistics & numerical data*
  • Risk Factors