UCLA Campus    |   UCLA Health    |   School of Medicine Translate:
UCLA Health It Begins With U

Clinical Updates


Clinical Updates

Hyperbaric Medicine

UCLA treats carbon monoxide poisoning patients in largest hyperbaric chamber in Southern California


CU-Hyperbaric ChamberAs many as 40 Californians die each year and thousands more suffer serious injuries, including brain damage, from carbon monoxide poisoning—mostly from the use of faulty space or wall heaters. A new law that requires property owners to install alarm devices on fossil-fuel-burning appliances that produce carbon monoxide should reduce those unnecessary injuries and deaths after the law goes into full effect in 2013. In the meantime, it’s important to know that hyperbaric oxygen therapy is a safe and effective treatment for patients who have suffered carbon monoxide poisoning.

UCLA features multi-occupant hyperbaric chamber

UCLA’s state-of-the-art, multi-occupant hyperbaric chamber began operating as part of the Gonda Vascular Center in 1997. The only chamber of its size in Southern California, it can accommodate up to 18 patients at a time and treats the second highest number of patients in the country every year. UCLA’s hyperbaric chamber is big enough to accommodate patients who need intensive care and close monitoring by physicians. The roominess of the chamber is also less likely to cause claustrophobia, a complaint often heard by people treated in mono-chambers.

How it works

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy increases the amount of oxygen dissolved in the blood by exposing the patient to increased barometric pressure within a sealed chamber. Technicians can raise the barometric pressure up to three atmospheres, or the equivalent of about 66 feet below sea level. Without hyperbaric therapy, it takes about seven hours for toxic levels of carbon monoxide in a patient’s bloodstream to decrease by half, but hyperbaric oxygen therapy reduces the half-time of carbon monoxide to just 23 minutes.

What to expect

UCLA’s hyperbaric oxygen chamber has three separate, but connected, sections.The barometric pressure of each section can be varied to meet different patients’ needs. Patients sit on a sofa or lie on a stretcher inside the chamber during treatment, which can last 90 minutes or more. When the doors are sealed, technicians slowly raise the chamber’s barometric pressure to the desired levels to treat the patients inside. When the session ends, they slowly depressurize the cabin. The length of time that a patient must remain in the chamber varies according to the carbon monoxide saturation level of the blood.

Some patients experience ear popping, mild sinus discomfort or claustrophobia during the treatment. While most patients do not experience any symptoms immediately after treatment, rare side effects include temporary short-sightedness (myopia) and pulmonary oxygen toxicity.

Research supports hyperbaric oxygen therapy for a number of uses

Clinical studies have proven that hyperbaric oxygen therapy is an effective treatment for many health conditions besides carbon monoxide poisoning. The UCLA Gonda Center for Wound Healing and Hyperbaric Medicine provides hyperbaric oxygen therapy for patients with conditions that are approved for Medicare reimbursement. Most health insurance policies cover these uses of hyperbaric oxygen therapy.

Medically approved uses of hyperbaric oxygen therapy are:

  • Carbon monoxide poisoning
  • Radiation injuries
  • Preservation of skin flaps or grafts
  • Diabetic foot not responding to conservative therapy
  • Gas gangrene
  • Decompression sickness
  • Air or gas embolism
  • Acute traumatic peripheral ischemia
  • Severe untreated anemia
  • Intracranial abscess
  • Problem wounds
  • Necrotizing soft tissue infections
  • Chronic refractory osteomyelitis

Many cases of carbon monoxide poisoning can be prevented

Every month, UCLA’s hyperbaric chamber treats one or two people suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning. Many patients are firefighters or fire victims who have inhaled smoke. About 20 percent of the patients are people who have fallen asleep in a small room with a faulty space heater that leaked carbon monoxide.

“Room heaters are an especially big problem in Southern California in winter months,” says Susan Sprau, M.D., medical director of the Gonda Center for Wound Healing and Hyperbaric Medicine. “Carbon monoxide poisoning is potentially fatal, but people who survive the experience can also have long-term brain damage, which may not become apparent right away.”

Alarm systems on wall or space heaters cannot prevent every incident of carbon monoxide poisoning, but they are an effec-tive way to eliminate several unnecessary deaths and many cases of injury every year, she says.

“This is a preventative healthcare issue,” Sprau says. “Doctors should be asking patients if they have space heaters in enclosed spaces and if they do, they should make sure they have installed alarms.”

Program Leadership

Susan Sprau, M.D.,
Medical Director
UCLA Hyperbaric Medicine
Clinical Professor of Medicine

Contact Information
Walter Chin, R.N., ADMT, CHT
Program Director 

UCLA Hyperbaric Medicine
200 Medical Plaza, Suite B265-29
Los Angeles, CA 90095 

(310) 794-1031 Appointments and information

(800 UCLA-888 to discuss reimbursement

E-mail: WChin@mednet.ucla.edu


Add a comment

Please note that we are unable to respond to medical questions through the comments feature below. For information about health care, or if you need help in choosing a UCLA physician, please contact UCLA Physician Referral Service (PRS) at 1-800-UCLA-MD1 (1-800-825-2631) and ask to speak with a referral nurse. Thank you!

comments powered by Disqus