Carbon monoxide poisoning sends roughly 40,000 people to hospitals every year in the United States. Although doctors routinely treat such patients with oxygen, the medical community still hasn't reached a consensus on the optimum dose or best delivery method.
Scientists report in the Oct. 3 New England Journal of Medicine that breathing pressurized, or hyperbaric, oxygen limits long-term brain damage from carbon monoxide poisoning better than simply inhaling oxygen at normal atmospheric pressure from a mask, the most common therapy.
To deliver hyperbaric oxygen, physicians place a patient in a sealed chamber containing 100 percent oxygen pressurized to 2 to 3 atmospheres, that is, double to triple the air pressure at sea level. Treatment usually lasts a few hours. The pressure in the tank feels akin to that experienced at depths of 33 to 66 feet underwater, and hyperbaric treatment carries a slight risk of ear discomfort and convulsion. Past studies failed to s