Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy: A brief history

The concept of Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy is far from a new discovery.

In fact, the earliest references to using increased air pressure to treat ‘afflictions of the lung’ date back to 1662 when an Englishman named Henshaw used a pressurised room to treat health problems.

Then in 1834 the first true hyperbaric tank was built by a French Iron shop under the direction of Dr. Junod.

It was a copper sphere, five feet in diameter with the appropriate viewports and compressed air fittings and it became the centre of attraction for many patients. He reported wonderful recovery from a variety of debilitating conditions in the Bulletin of the Academy of Medicine and enthusiasm of Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy spread among the European countries over the next forty years.

By 1890 twin lock chambers were in use during the Hudson River project to treat Caissons Disease (decompression syndrome), something that would go on to become the most well-known application of HBOT. Then, during the 1900’s, Dr. John S. Haldane further studied the effects of compressed oxygen and taught at the University of Dundee, developing the first diving tables for the Royal Navy.

In 1918, Dr. Orval Cunningham considered the differences between people living or dying through the flu epidemic in the Rocky Mountains.

He noticed people in the valley fared better than people in the mountains and reasoned that denser air in the valley helped people fight the infection better. He had an 8’ diameter by 30’ long hyperbaric chamber built next to his medical clinic and the positive outcomes he saw in with patients suffering from pneumonia encouraged him to build other chambers.

Just ten years later, in 1928, Harvard Medical School had a hyperbaric chamber installed which provided a tool for years of research.

Of course, the technology and our understanding of how the therapy works, have come a very long way since then.

We’re now at the point where it has demonstrated an impeccable safety record and it is increasingly common for Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy chambers to be purchased privately and installed in homes, spas and gyms.