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Health Canada issues warning against using soft-shell hyperbaric chambers

A sign is displayed in front of Health Canada headquarters in Ottawa on Friday, January 3, 2014.
A sign is displayed in front of Health Canada headquarters in Ottawa on Friday, January 3, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

They’re advertised online as a treatment for conditions such as multiple sclerosis, migraines and cerebral palsy.

But Health Canada says that inflatable, soft-shelled hyperbaric chambers haven’t been found to be an effective treatment for any of those conditions — and using them could pose serious risks, including death.

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In a statement on Friday, the federal agency warned Canadians against purchasing the devices, which have not been evaluated for safe use in this country.

“To date, Health Canada has not received any evidence supporting the benefits of the soft-shelled version of these devices, and manufacturers have not demonstrated that the soft-shelled models are effective for treating any medical conditions,” the agency said.

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BC veterinary clinic uses hyperbaric treatment to help pets heal faster
BC veterinary clinic uses hyperbaric treatment to help pets heal faster

What is a hyperbaric chamber?

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is a form of medical treatment where a patient enters a pressurized metal capsule and breathes a concentration of nearly 100 per cent oxygen for certain intervals.

According to the U.S.-based Undersea & Hyperbaric Medical Society, hyperbaric therapy can be used to treat 14 conditions, including carbon monoxide poisoning, severe anemia, decompression sickness and burns. Exposure to pure oxygen — regular air has 21 per cent — has been shown to promote healing.

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The treatment is available at hospitals and private clinics. Health Canada says it is generally safe under proper supervision if regulatory requirements are met, though there are some risks.

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What’s the risk of soft-shelled hyperbaric chambers?

Some soft-sided hyperbaric chambers are shown for sale on the website Alibaba.com. Health Canada says such devices aren’t permitted for sale in Canada.
Some soft-sided hyperbaric chambers are shown for sale on the website Alibaba.com. Health Canada says such devices aren’t permitted for sale in Canada. Screengrab/Alibaba.com

While five hard-shelled hyperbaric chamber devices have been approved for use in Canada, no soft-sided devices have been tested, Health Canada said.

The agency said the potential risks include fire or explosion (due to static discharge and the extra oxygen), spread of disease through cross-contamination, changes to blood sugar levels and damage to ears, eyes, sinuses, lungs and teeth.

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Since they have not been licensed by Health Canada, it’s illegal to advertise or import them.

The authority is asking manufacturers to stop selling them and conduct a recall on those already sold in Canada.

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