About Mercy

Mercy Hyperbaric Medicine Unit

Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBO) is a medical treatment in which a patient breathes pure oxygen at pressures greater than normal atmospheric pressure. This promotes new blood vessel formation, kills bacteria, helps to remove toxins from certain wounds and allows the oxygen to penetrate deep into the tissues and assist recovery.

HBO services are offered to wound patients with crush injuries, necrotizing soft tissue infections, radiation tissue injury and chronic osteomyelitis. Other patients treated include those with bone infections, bone or tissue changes following radiation therapy, carbon monoxide poisoning or smoke inhalation. Using conventional treatment methods, the treatment time for persons suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning may take up to five hours; however, with HBO, the treatment time can be reduced to just 90 minutes.

Scheduled visits

Your physician will refer you for treatment in the Mercy Hyperbaric Medicine Unit. Specialized physicians will closely monitor your therapy with the help of the hyperbaric team. This group of highly trained professionals will be present to provide you with the safest and most comfortable treatment experience possible. Medications may be prescribed to make the process more comfortable. Hyperbaric nurses will provide your care and closely monitor the chamber during your treatments. If necessary, electronic monitoring devices may be attached to help the staff member assess your vital signs.


Hyperbaric treatments are broken into three phases—including compression, at pressure and decompression.

  • Compression
    Once in the chamber, the nurse will tell you when the gradual increase in pressure starts. You will hear air begin to circulate, and you may notice some warmth, but this is only temporary. Compression generally lasts seven to 10 minutes. A staff member will remain with you to adjust the rate of compression and to help you relieve the “full” sensation you may notice in your ears. The feeling is similar to what you feel while in an airplane or driving in high altitudes.

  • Time at Pressure
    Typical treatments last approximately 90 minutes and the temperature inside the chamber is about the same as room temperature. The chamber is equipped with a speaker should you need to talk with a team member during a treatment, as well as a television, VCR and radio. You may also sleep while in the chamber.
  • Decompression
    When the prescribed treatment time is finished, the nurse will begin to decrease the chamber pressure. During the decompression phase, you may experience a cooling sensation, as well as a “popping” sensation in your ears. Again, this is only temporary.

Preparing for Treatment

Before starting your therapy, team members will discuss preparations and go over a checklist with you. Listed below are some important things for you to know:

  • Medications - We will need to know any drugs you are taking during a course of hyperbaric therapy. If changes are necessary in your medication schedule, your personal physician will be consulted.
  • Colds and other illnesses - It is important that you notify staff members if you have symptoms of a cold or flu—such as fever, cough, runny nose, cold sores, nausea, vomiting or diarrhea. We may need to postpone HBO therapy until your symptoms have subsided and our doctor has cleared you to resume treatments.
  • Smoking - Nicotine causes small blood vessels to constrict, decreasing circulation and oxygenation. Once hyperbaric therapy has been prescribed, you should stop smoking.
  • Cosmetics - For safety reasons, do not use any makeup, hair spray, perfume, deodorant or shaving lotion before your treatment. To be sure you are free of cosmetics, please take a shower or bath before coming for your treatment.
  • Clothing - You will be given a 100 percent cotton gown during your treatment. No other articles of clothing are to be worn in the chamber. Please leave watches, rings and other jewelry, hard contact lenses and other prosthetic devices at home.
  • Scheduling - Staff members will schedule your treatments on a daily basis. Every effort will be made to consider your other activities when scheduling your treatments. Occasionally a life-threatening emergency may arise. If a critically ill patient needs immediate treatment, your appointment may be postponed or cancelled. If you are unable to keep an appointment, please call the Hyperbaric Medicine Unit as soon as possible.
(515) 247-3121
1111 6th Avenue
Des Moines, Iowa 50314

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