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Pyogenic and Invasive Fungal Intracranial Abscesses

Pyogenic and Invasive Fungal Intracranial Abscesses

Pyogenic and Invasive Fungal Intracranial Abscesses


Treatment Protocol Guidelines

This hyperbaric medicine treatment protocol is based upon the recommendations of the Hyperbaric Oxygen Committee of the Undersea and Hyperbaric Medical Society.[1] Clinical protocols and/or practice guidelines are systematically developed statements that help physicians, other practitioners, case managers and clients make decisions about appropriate health care for specific clinical circumstances.  

Protocols allow health providers to offer evidence-based, appropriate, standardized diagnostic treatment and care services to patients undergoing hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT).  Evidenced-based medicine offers clinicians a way to achieve improved quality, improved patient satisfaction, and reduced costs.  This discussion includes adjunctive HBOT for pyogenic and invasive fungal intracranial abscesses. Utilization Review should be initiated when clinical decisions result in deviation from or modification of treatment protocols.  This includes any course of treatment at or above the recognized threshold limits. 

Medical Necessity

Medicare.gov defines “medically necessary” as “health-care services or supplies needed to prevent, diagnose, or treat an illness, injury, condition, disease, or its symptoms and that meet accepted standards of medicine.” 

The following condition is NOT a covered indication per the National Coverage Determination (NCD) 20.29.[2] This medical condition shall not be treated adjunctively or primarily by HBOT for reimbursement by the Medicare program as data supporting its use has not been established as medically beneficial. Services deemed treatment for these primary conditions will be denied as Not Reasonable and Necessary. Some third-party private insurers and state Medicaid services do cover this diagnosis. Be sure to carefully read the insurer local coverage determination (LCD).


 Sample Physician Order   | $ ICD-10 Crosswalk  |  Treatment Table

Background The term intracranial abscess (ICA) includes cerebral abscess, subdural empyema and epidural empyema. Infection may occur and spread from a contiguous infection (e.g., sinusitis, otitis, mastoiditis, or dental infection), hematogenous seeding, or cranial trauma. The length of time on antibiotics can be shortened with the use of HBOT as an adjunctive treatment [3]

Invasive fungal infections (IFI) are difficult to treat and often fatal in immunocompromised patients, diabetics, and trauma patients. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) has been advocated as an adjunctive treatment for IFIs; mainly mucormycosis, actinomycosis and aspergillosis. Mucormycosis is the second most common mold infection and the third most common invasive fungal infection in patients with hematologic malignant tumors and organ transplantations. [4]

These critically ill patients frequently require intubation, ventilation, and infusion of catecholamines in order to supplement blood pressure. Surgical excision of these abscesses in the orbit, nose, brain, head, or neck are often referred to as "commando procedures."  These procedures are performed in the grimmest of situations and are highly disfiguring, primarily due to location of the head, neck and upper thorax.

Goals of HBOT

  • Correct tissue hypoxia, inhibit growth of anaerobic and micro-aerophilic bacteria
  • Strengthen host defense through enhanced neutrophil-mediated phagocytosis of infecting organisms
  • Reduce intracranial pressure and symptoms through reduction of cerebral edema, preferably without corticosteroid use, as steroids may decrease penetration of antibiotics across the blood-brain barrier.
  • Enhance effects of antibiotic agents by improving metabolic environment of tissue acidosis 
  • Concomitantly treat associated skull osteomyelitis, if present
  • Reducing fungal growth by augmenting Amphotericin B activity


    • The term intracranial abscess (ICA) includes cerebral abscess, subdural empyema, and epidural empyema.
    • The classic triad of symptoms, present in less than 50% of cases, includes: fever in 50% of patients, headache >75%, and focal neurologic deficit 60%
    • Other signs include: stiff neck, hemiparesis with frontal lobe abscess, and signs of raised intracranial pressure
    • Clinical presentation supported by computerized tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
    • Diagnoses vary according to the type of fungal infection. These invasive fungal infections are typically opportunistic and affect immune-compromised patients. Histopathology with culture are often relied upon, however, culture may demonstrate no growth, and histopathology is frequently non-specific. These tests need to be interpreted in light of history, signs/symptoms and underlying disease. 
    HBO Criteria

    Adjunctive HBOT should be considered under the following conditions:

    • Multiple abscesses in deep or dominant location(s)
    • Patient is immunosuppressed, particularly if abscess caused by fungus
    • In situations where surgery is contraindicated or where the patient is a poor surgical candidate, with no response or presenting with further deterioration in spite of standard surgical treatment of needle aspirates and antibiotic therapy.   
    • Surgical referral with diagnosis of an invasive fungal infection
    • Inability to tolerate (or contraindication to) use of Amphotericin B 


    • Past medical history should include:
      • Any past incidence of sinusitis, otitis media, recent dental procedure, or head/neck infection and treatment (antibiotics). 
      • A known history or potential risk of HIV or other immunocompromised states which includes uncontrolled diabetes mellitus.
    • Physical examination focusing on source of infection (frequently ears, sinus and oral cavity). Neurologic exam to establish initial clinical status.
    • Labs to order: 
      • Complete Blood Count (CBC)
      • Erythrocyte Sedimentation Rate (ESR)
      • C-reactive protein (CRP)
      • Coagulation profile
      • Comprehensive Metabolic Panel (CMP)
      • Blood cultures
      • Culture and Sensitivity (C&S) and tissue culture
      • Arterial Blood Gas (ABG)
    • Radiologic testing to include:
      • X-Ray
      • CT or MRI, ultrasound in infants with open fontanelles.
    • Intracranial Pressure (ICP) monitoring for patients with increased intracranial pressure.
    • Evaluation of tympanic membranes before HBOT and as needed. Consider emergent myringotomies.


    • 2.0-2.8 ATA for 90 minutes of oxygen breathing, with two 5-10 minute air breaks if treated higher than 2.0 ATA (Table 1 or 3). See topic "HBO Treatment Tables"
    • Twice daily treatments based on the clinical condition of the individual patient. May decrease to once daily based on patient's clinical response and radiological findings.
    • The optimal number of HBOT treatments for ICA is unknown. The duration of therapy must be based on clinical judgment. In the largest number of ICA patients treated with HBOT, the average number of HBOT sessions was 14 in the absence of osteomyelitis.
    • Concurrent treatment with antiepileptic medication is recommended for all patients unless contraindicated. With increased seizure risk during HBOT, administration of air break is recommended. (Table 2) See topic "HBO Treatment Tables"


    • Serial neurological assessments
    • Repeat radiologic testing
    • Bone scan for accompanying cranial osteomyelitis

    Treatment Period

    5 – 20 treatments (concurrent Utilization review is recommended after 20 treatments). If intracranial abscess + concomitant skull or spinal osteomyelitis, it would be reasonable to extend to 40 sessions. 


    Refer to the ICD-10 Guideline for the appropriate ICD-10 code


    • If diabetes mellitus is present, blood glucose should be checked within an hour prior to treatment and immediately post-HBOT.
    • Seizure activity may be a manifestation of the underlying disease process or the effects of CNS oxygen toxicity. Clinical correlation must be utilized to discriminate between these two etiologies. If oxygen toxicity is suspected, administer more frequent air break(s) as tolerated. 
    • This indication is not covered by Medicare but may be covered by commercial carriers. If treating a Medicare patient, an advance beneficiary notice (ABN) must be completed and signed by the patient prior to treatment. 
    Primary Sources: Whelan and Kindwall [5], Moon [1] [6], National Baromedical Services [7] 
    Periorbital fungal infection

    Figure 1. Periorbital fungal infection (mucormycosis)



    Sample history for Invasive Intracranial Abscess is shown below: 

    "Cherie P. is a 36 y/o woman with a brief history of left-sided maxillary sinus pain and pressure in her left orbital region. She had mild sinus pain this morning. The pain persisted and grew as the day went on. By 6PM this evening, the pain was excruciating and she started losing visual acuity in the left eye. She called 911 and was transported to the emergency room. On arrival, she was noted to have severe orbital swelling and left eye protrusion. Her level of consciousness began to be unstable. An emergent CT scan showed a mass effect in the left orbit that extended into the maxillary sinus and posteriorly into the brain. The ENT surgeon was called for debridement and radical debulking of the mass. Initial diagnosis is a mucor type intracranial abscess. The most likely organism is fungal. 

    Pertinent past history is that Cherie has been an insulin-dependent Type 1 diabetes mellitus patient since she was 14 years-old. She has lost her health coverage and could not afford insulin for the past 3 or 4 months. Her hemoglobin A1c is 14%. Blood glucose in the emergency department was over 400.

    We have been asked to provide hyperbaric oxygen therapy in the presence of a fungal intracranial abscess. We are assembling our critical care team and will take Cherie from recovery room directly to the hyperbaric chamber. This infection has a significant mortality, so we are proceeding with HBOT while cultures will lag for days to a week. She has been placed on broad spectrum antibiotics as well as Amphotericin B infusion."

    Physical Exam

    • The term intracranial abscess (ICA) includes cerebral abscess, subdural empyema and epidural empyema.
    • The classic triad of symptoms, present in less than 50% of cases, includes: fever in 50% of patients, headache >75% and focal neurologic deficit 60%
    • Other signs include: stiff neck, hemiparesis with frontal lobe abscess, and signs of raised intracranial pressure
    • Focusing on source of infection (ears, sinus and oral cavity). Neurologic exam to establish initial clinical status.


    • Pyogenic and Invasive Fungal Intracranial Abscesses Refer to ICD-10 Crosswalk

    Hyperbaric Plan

    Patients may be treated at 2.0 - 2.8 ATA for 90 minutes of oxygen breathing, interspersed with appropriate air breaks. In the early phase of therapy, twice daily hyperbaric treatments are preferred. However, almost all of these patients are critically ill and will require extreme effort on the part of the surgical, medical, and hyperbaric team. These patients will be in the operating room daily to every other day for repeated debridements until stable. The optimal number of HBOT treatments is unknown with no randomized controlled trials. By review of case series and retrospective analyses, we estimate 14 - 20 treatments, without complication. 

    Risk and Benefit of Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy 

    • Please refer to topic "Documentation HBO: Risks and Benefits"

    Indication for Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT)

    Intracranial abscess is a rarely diagnosed complication in patients with some underlying immune weakness. It is not uncommon in patients with diabetes, whose diabetes control is chronically absent. While bacterial infection can be the source from an underlying sinusitis, the more frequent organisms are anaerobic bacteria and fungal in nature. 

    Mortality of intracranial abscesses is high and approaches 20-25% in some studies. The surgical approach to the abscess is radical debulking in a combined approach with ENT surgeons and neurosurgeons. 

    Adjunctive HBOT is thought to benefit by inhibiting anaerobic growth, which is frequently seen. HBOT is effective at reducing swelling of brain tissue.  HBOT may affect antibiotic and antifungal medication crossing the blood-brain barrier. Finally, in cases of mucormycosis, HBOT is thought to slow germination of fungal spores and retard mycelial growth, thus slowing the advance of tissue destruction. 

    Sample Order

    •  See sample physician order

    Documentation by Certified Hyperbaric Nurse and Certified Hyperbaric Technician 

    The certified hyperbaric technician (CHT) and certified hyperbaric nurse (CHRN) should maintain an accurate record of the care and related support services delivered during each patient’s course of hyperbaric oxygen therapy. The patient's chart is a legal document and as such, must reflect in meaningful terms the patient's condition, progress, and care rendered. The provider and nurse's notes must be concise, accurate, and support medical necessity for the treatment ordered. The notes must reflect responsibility for the care rendered. For details, see topic "Documentation: Hyperbaric Treatment Notes by the CHRN and CHT"

    Daily treatment should include, but is not limited to the following: 

    • Physician Order - confirm daily HBO treatment order.
    • Patient Assessment (by the CHRN or CHT) 
    • Pre-treatment Safety Check (by the CHRN or CHT)
    • Documentation of the Treatment Log (by the CHRN or CHT)
    • Physician Supervision (by the CHRN or CHT)
    • Care Provided (by the CHRN or CHT)
    • Plan of Care (by the CHRN or CHT, based on physician orders)


    • 2CFor patients with pyogenic and/or fungal zygomatoses and intracranial abscesses, we suggest the use of adjunct HBOT to increase chances of survival (Grade 2C). 
      • Rationale: causes of severe pyogenic and fungal infections (primarily of the brain, head, neck, and chest) are due to microaerophilic, anaerobic, and several invasive fungal species. These microorganisms are mainly found in immunocompromised individuals, especially patients with diabetic acidosis and rhinocerebral mucormycosis.[8] Because of the rarity of this event, a formal randomized controlled study has not been performed. However, there have been multiple case reports and small series reported in the literature since the 1970s. Clinical reports of case presentations and small case series demonstrate the adjunctive use of HBOT with surgical debridement, amphotericin B, and other therapeutic interventions.[9][10] With this rationale, and in moribund patients, HBOT has been included in critical care management of these critically ill patients. The mortality rate varies based on the organism cultured and state of health when discovered. However, the several analyses listed above demonstrate lower mortality when using adjunctive HBOT rather than clinical care alone.
      • When to start and end therapy: before starting adjunctive HBOT, your facility must have the ability to treat critically ill patients in the hyperbaric chamber. The sooner the patient begins hyperbaric therapy, the better response. The endpoint of HBOT is when there is hemodynamic stability and no evidence of end-organ (primarily brain, heart, intestines, and kidneys) failure due to the infection.
      • Coverage: this indication is not typically covered by Medicare.[2] It may be covered by some private insurers. Due to the mortality associated with this disease, we suggest no delay in treating these patients. However, the facility and provider may not be reimbursed.


    Providing HBOT in a safe manner is the primary objective with each and every treatment. The clinical team (physician, CHT, CHRN, etc) providing HBOT goes to great lengths to ensure patient safety with every treatment. A summary of operational considerations pertaining to adjunct HBOT for pyogenic and invasive fungal intracranial abscess is provided below:

    Chamber Inspections

    • Routine chamber inspections should be conducted to confirm chamber maintenance procedures and the safe operation of all equipment utilized during HBOT.
      • To ensure the safety of the environment in the hyperbaric medicine facility, chamber inspections are to be performed routinely (i.e. daily, monthly, semi-annually, as needed). Processes and systems that meet standards set forth by The Joint Commission (TJC) and the Undersea and Hyperbaric Medical Society (UHMS) should be utilized, and elements that have been developed within the field (in some cases through “near misses”) may be incorporated. These processes and systems can be implemented through customized patient-centered checklists. Checklists have a wide range of applications, with the potential to improve patient education, pre-procedure planning, discharge instructions, care coordination, chronic care management, and plans for staying well. 
      • For resources on chamber inspections, see topic "HBO Safety Inspections".

    Ground testing

    • NFPA 99 requires that all hyperbaric chambers are grounded and patients inside chambers filled with 100% oxygen are likewise grounded. Wrist continuity tests prior to each treatment and daily chamber checks including chamber stud to wall measurements and patient ground jack to chamber stud measurements ensure ongoing continuity.

    Prohibited Item(s), Assessment and Authorization

    • Wound dressings, devices, and other objects that go in the hyperbaric chamber with the patient may raise important safety concerns, including the production of heat, production of static electricity, production of flammable vapor, ignition temperature, and total fuel load. It is critical that clinicians understand which dressings, devices, and objects are prohibited, restricted or allowed inside a hyperbaric chamber during HBOT for pyogenic and invasive fungal intracranial abscess.
    • Frequently, questions arise in regard to which items are prohibited, restricted or allowed inside a hyperbaric chamber during HBOT. The NFPA 99 2018 edition, chapter 14 "Hyperbaric Facilities", provides the process for effectively managing patient care product(s) during HBOT.  The NFPA 99 2018 edition - states “Physician and Safety Director approval to use prohibited items shall be stated in writing for all prohibited materials employed”. [11]
      • Each hyperbaric facility should maintain an internal list of items that are approved for use, should be used with caution and should not be used in the chamber. An authorization form is required for items that should be used with caution. To facilitate assessment, clinicians might opt to utilize the Go-No-Go Risk Assessment Tool. The tool is an interactive process that enables hyperbaric technicians, Safety and Medical Directors to document the product information necessary to complete the risk assessment process. Upon completion of the process, the user will have the ability to print or email the document. In addition, clinicians can review lists of items that are approved for use, should be used with caution and should not be used in the chamber. See " Go-No-Go Lists / Prohibited Items" and "Go-No-Go: Frequently Asked Questions". 

    Ancillary Equipment

    • All equipment utilized by the hyperbaric medicine facility is maintained through a program of regular preventative maintenance. The manufacturer maintains the hyperbaric chambers during the regularly scheduled service contract. Ancillary equipment (e.g. cardiac monitor leads, TCOM sensors) should be serviced by the Hospital's Biomedical Department and maintained in accordance with the recommendations of the manufacturer. See topics "Ear Exam - Barotrauma" and "Ancillary Equipment"

    Air Breaks

    • During HBOT for pyogenic and invasive fungal intracranial abscess, it is necessary to provide an alternative air breathing source. This may also be necessary to reduce the risk of central nervous system oxygen toxicity.  The air breathing system consists of an independent high-pressure air source, capable of providing flow that is sufficient to meet the patient's inspiratory demand. Air breathing systems may be provided by institutional gas outlet (wall outlet) or via portable "H" cylinders utilizing a diameter index safety system (DISS) regulator.  Delivery of the air break to the patient may be provided by disposable non-rebreather mask, demand valve and resuscitation mask or trach collar. For purposes of infection control, masks should be single patient use and cleaned or replaced (per patient) as needed. 
    • While the use of air breaks to decrease the incidence of CNS oxygen toxicity has not been directly demonstrated, there is a large amount of published data on the cause of oxygen toxicity related directly to a combination of the level of FiO2, and time. As such, these air breaks limit the interval time exposure and are expected to decrease the risk of oxygen toxicity.[12]

    Infection Control - Cleaning/ Disinfection of the Hyperbaric Chamber

    • The cleaning and disinfection of acrylic monoplace chambers is done with caution because many commercial biohazard-cleaning agents contain alcohol. While alcohol is adequate to kill many pathogens, it is destructive to acrylic and can produce flammable fumes and vapors creating a fire hazard in the chamber and the immediate area. Therefore, only manufacturer-approved cleaning products are used for disinfection of the hyperbaric chamber and accompanying equipment. Particular cleaning and disinfecting tasks are divided among staff from environmental services, equipment or biomedical device services, respiratory services, nursing, and other departments of the health care team. 
    • Adverse outcomes related the risk of infection stands at the forefront of concern for patients with pyogenic and invasive fungal intracranial abscess. Particular attention should be given to cleaning and disinfection of the hyperbaric chamber acrylic, stretcher and associated equipment, including observing the specific kill times of the solution used prior to the delivery HBOT. See topic: "Cleaning and Disinfection of Hyperbaric Oxygen Monoplace Chamber" 


    • Assessment of the patient and their past medical history is necessary to identify and minimize the risk of barotraumas. If the patient has history of sinus, tooth, and ear problems, compress slowly and observe patient for signs of pain. 
    • Middle-ear barotrauma: The most common type of barotrauma experienced by patients receiving HBOT is middle-ear barotrauma (MEB). Normally, the middle ear is a closed, vascular lined space and therefore subject to pressure change. The normal means by which the middle ear remains at an equal pressure with the surrounding tissue is through the opening of the Eustachian tube. During descent, the increasing pressure of the surrounding water leads to “middle-ear squeeze.” If a patient is suffering from Eustachian tube dysfunction, he or she likely will be unable to equalize and will subsequently develop middle-ear barotrauma. [5]
    • Pneumothorax: A complete and accurate pulmonary assessment is essential to avoid or prevent gas expansion problems. Assessing the patient with a significant pulmonary history is a key starting point. Identify any history of asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary dysfunction (COPD), fibrosis, spontaneous pneumothorax, or chest trauma.
      • The absolute contraindication for HBOT is the unvented pneumothorax. 
      • Signs and symptoms of pneumothorax include: Sudden shortness of breath, Sudden stabbing chest pain, Tracheal shift to affected side in cases of tension, Asymmetrical chest movement (lack or reduced chest excursion on affected side), Increase in respiratory distress with decompression, with relief on recompression. [5]

    Blood Glucose Level and HBOT

    • It is necessary to ensure that all patients who are currently being treated for irregular blood glucose levels do not experience a hypoglycemic event as a result of ongoing HBOT. Most studies suggest that blood glucose decreases in patients with diabetes who undergo HBOT. This decrease in blood glucose is estimated at 50 mg/dl. HBOT might not be as effective in patients with non-insulin dependent diabetes mellitus patients, compared to patients without diabetes. [5]
    • If diabetes mellitus is present, blood glucose should be checked within 1 hour prior to treatment and immediately post-HBOT. The goal is to ensure that all patients who are currently being treated, do not experience a hypoglycemic event as a result of ongoing HBOT.  Hypoglycemia in the hyperbaric environment may present similar symptoms as oxygen toxicity, including but not limited to sweating, pale skin, shakiness, anxiety, tingling or numbness of the tongue or cheek. See section 'Blood Glucose Level and HBOT' in topic "Patient Care".

    Medications in the hyperbaric environment 

    The hyperbaric environment creates numerous considerations for the use of drug therapies within it. Physiologic changes to the body due to HBOT may lead to pharmacokinetic changes in drug disposition. In addition, HBO acting as a drug can interact and enhance or lessen the physiologic effect of the drug. Most drugs will not interact unfavorably with oxygen. Unless specific contraindications or precautions have been addressed, it is generally safe to assume a medication can be used. [5] Pharmacodynamic interactions result in modification of the pharmacologic effect of the drug after administration. These interactions will increase or decrease the effects of oxygen or the drug. [5]

    Patients receiving antibiotics with elastomeric infusion pumps (also known as "space balls") may continue to receive antibiotics in the chamber, however infusion amounts during changes of atmospheric pressure should still be monitored. If the pump is full of air, then it may not provide standardized infusion rate. A study shows that the antibiotic flow rate for ceftazidime 6 g is not significantly affected by increases in ambient pressure across the pressure range of 101.3 kPa to 284 kPa. However, there was evidence that the specific antibiotic solution might affect flow rates and this requires further study. 

    For potential interactions of drugs administered to patients with pyogenic and invasive fungal intracranial abscess, see topic "Medications In The Hyperbaric Environment".

    Oxygen Toxicity

    • The hyperbaric staff should be skilled in reducing the potential for and management of oxygen toxicity for the patient receiving HBOT. 
    • Central Nervous System (CNS) oxygen toxicity can occur in patients breathing oxygen at pressures of 2.0 ATA (atmosphere absolute) or greater. Convulsions may occur abruptly or may be preceded by other signs of central nervous system irritability.[5] Early estimates of the seizure rate during therapeutic oxygen exposures at 2-3 ATA reported a convulsion incidence of about one per 10,000 therapies or 0.01%.[5]
    • The hyperbaric physician will be notified immediately if a patient experiences signs or symptoms of oxygen toxicity during HBOT.

    CNS toxicity

    • Observe patient closely for premonitory signs and symptoms of CNS Oxygen Toxicity such as:
      • V : vision-visual changes, blurred vision, visual hallucinations
      • E : Ears- Auditory hallucinations, ringing in the ears
      • N : Nausea- May include emesis
      • T : Twitching- Restlessness, numbness, focal twitching (note time, duration and site)
      • I : irritability- Change in personality
      • D : Dizziness- Vertigo
      • C : Convulsions- Seizure activity
      • C : Change in mentation - Change in affect or of a non-descriptive complaint like, “I just don’t feel right” [13]

    Pulmonary Oxygen Toxicity

    • Most current applications of HBOT do not cause pulmonary symptoms or clinically significant pulmonary functional deficits. [14] Prolonged exposure to oxygen pressures greater than 0.5 ATA is associated with the development of intratracheal and bronchial irritation.  Pulmonary oxygen toxicity is not expected from routine daily HBOT. The possibility of development does exist with prolonged exposure most typically related to long treatment tables such as US Navy Treatment Table 6 used for decompression illness, but even these cases would be mild and self-limiting. [15]
    • Continued oxygen exposure may lead to impaired pulmonary function and eventually acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS). Symptoms include:
      • Substernal burning,
      • Chest tightness
      • Cough
      • Dyspnea
    • These changes are seen over the course of days to weeks at lower oxygen pressures and occur more rapidly as the oxygen pressure is increased. [5]

    Ocular Oxygen Toxicity

    • Vision changes as a side effect of HBOT have been observed in patients undergoing prolonged periods of daily HBOT.  The rate of these changes has been reported in the literature to be ∼0.25 diopter per week and progressive throughout the course of ongoing treatment. Myopia has been reported in 25–100% of patients undergoing HBOT after several weeks at pressures of 2.0 ATA and greater. [15] When providing HBO for the patient being treated for pyogenic and invasive fungal intracranial abscess it is important to discuss the risks, hazards and potential side effects with the patient and family.  Documentation of this discussion and patient/ family's understanding should be clearly stated in the patient record.  For further information See topic:"Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy and Visual Acuity"


    Nursing interventions that are relevant for adjunct HBOT of pyogenic and invasive fungal intracranial abscess are presented below.[16] For further information see topic "Nursing Interventions".

    Knowledge deficit related to hyperbaric oxygen therapy and treatment procedures

    • Assess and document the patient and/or family's understanding of purpose and goals of HBOT, procedures involved, and potential hazards of HBOT.
      • Utilize the teach-back method to confirm patient understanding and identify and address barriers to learning. Involve an interpreter if indicated, apply age-specific teaching, consider cultural/religious factors, assess readiness to learn, and identify patient's expectations of treatment.
    • See section 'Knowledge deficit related to hyperbaric oxygen therapy and treatment procedures' in topic "Nursing Intervention"

    Anxiety related to hyperbaric oxygen treatments or other medical problems 

    • Assess the patient for a history of confinement anxiety and implement preventative measures as appropriate. It is important to reinforce to patient that someone will always be with them, and the staff are well trained for emergency procedures. Identify signs of symptoms of anxiety before and during HBOT such as:
      • Patient states anxiety
      • Tense-appearing facial/body posturing
      • Complaint of nausea or diarrhea
      • Feelings of being confined or smothered
      • Defensive or argumentative attitude
      • Hyperventilation
      • Diaphoresis and hyperventilation
      • Tachycardia
      • Restlessness
      • Sudden feeling of being hot
    • See section 'Anxiety related to hyperbaric oxygen treatments or other medical problems' in topic "Nursing Intervention"

    Potential for injury within the hyperbaric facility related to transferring the patient in and out of the chamber

    • When transferring a patient that is being treated for pyogenic and invasive fungal intracranial abscess, comply with the facility's fall risk prevention policy. Prior to transfer of the patient assess fall risk and safety precautions. Communicate and involve patient with the plan of action and provide patient education regarding safety precautions.  Provide assistance with transfers as patient needs apply to ensure compliance with institutional/facility policy.

    Potential for injury related to fire within the hyperbaric chamber

    • Fuel sources in an oxygen-enriched environment are an unavoidable circumstance of HBOT and include linens, equipment, dressings, and the patient.  The fire triangle consists of oxygen, fuel, and an ignition source (heat).  In HBOT an ignition source is needed to complete the fire triangle. This may occur due to a spark in the chamber. Follow facility fire prevention steps and NFPA chapter 14 probes for Class A and Class B hyperbaric chambers. HBOT teaching and consent should include the risks of fire in the chamber.  Provide the patient and family with written instructions regarding the risk of prohibited materials during HBOT.  Prior to each hyperbaric treatment, staff should perform and document the pre-treatment safety checklist. Ensure this has been performed and time-stamped prior to descent.  Patients receiving treatment for pyogenic and invasive fungal intracranial abscess may have surgical dressings that are ordered to remain intact.  A risk assessment per the Safety Director in collaboration with the Medical Director to determine if they may enter the chamber on a case by case basis. Safety measures should be initiated if the risk assessment allows for item to enter the chamber as well as completion of a prohibited item's authorization form signed by the Safety and Medical Directors.

    Potential for injury related to changes in atmospheric pressure within the hyperbaric chamber

    • Assess patient's and inside attendant's knowledge of ear clearing techniques and ability to equalize pressure.  Collaborate with provider to assess tympanic membrane (TM) for suspected barotrauma prior to and after the first HBO treatment and per patient complaint.  Collaborate with the provider to describe and document observations including color and visibility of TM, presence of wax, blood/fluid/air and any hearing deficits or changes. Methods to equalize pressure in the middle ear during HBO treatment include: yawning, swallowing, jaw thrust, head tilt, Valsalva, Toynbee, Roydhouse, Frenzel, etc. Reinforce the importance of notifying the chamber operator immediately when pressure or fullness is felt in the middle ear.

    Potential for unstable blood glucose level related to hyperbaric oxygen therapy and disease pathology

    • Brain abscess usually results from predisposing conditions, such as diabetes, immunosuppression or malignancy.[1] The same underlying conditions may lead to unstable blood glucose levels. 
    • Literature notes hyperbaric oxygen therapy carries its own mechanism for increased glucose usage through oxygen-mediated transport of glucose into muscle cells and may also increase insulin sensitivity.  Prevention of acute hypoglycemia in the hyperbaric chamber is vital for patient safety.  Follow facility policy and procedure guidelines for pre and post-treatment glucose control. Prior to treatment assess the patient's knowledge level, recent hypoglycemic events, and patient-specific symptoms of hypoglycemia. Consider timing of short and long-acting glycemic control medications when scheduling HBOT to avoid peak action time while at depth in the chamber.


    This topic has been reviewed and approved by the National Board of Diving and Hyperbaric Medical Technology (NBDHMT) for one (1) Category A Credit. 'Meeting the Category A requirement related directly to any combination of hyperbaric operations, related technical aspects and chamber safety.'

    To claim the credit: 

    • 1. Read the topic
    • 2. Answer the examination and course critique questions. 
      • Take the quiz via SurveyMonkey 
    • 3. Receive the certificate by e-mail. A passing score of 70% is required (please allow up to 8 business days for processing)

    For more information on Category A continuing education credits see blog post " Hyperbaric Certification and Continuing Education for Technicians & Nurses".


    1/4/2021Added section 'Category A Continuing Education Credit'
    12/15/2020Added section on documentation for Certified Hyperbaric Nurse and Certified Hyperbaric Technician and sections 'Operational Considerations' and 'Nursing Interventions'
    7/3/2019Added section on Clinical Evidence and Recommendations
    5/12/2019Added section on Documentation
    Official reprint from WoundReference® woundreference.com ©2024 Wound Reference, Inc. All Rights Reserved
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    NOTE: This is a controlled document. This document is not a substitute for proper training, experience, and exercising of professional judgment. While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the contents, neither the authors nor the Wound Reference, Inc. give any guarantee as to the accuracy of the information contained in them nor accept any liability, with respect to loss, damage, injury or expense arising from any such errors or omissions in the contents of the work.


    1. Moon RE . Undersea and Hyperbaric Medical Society, Hyperbaric Indications, 14th edition: Air or Gas Embolism . 2019;.
    2. CMS. National Coverage Determination (NCD) for Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (20.29) . 2017;.
    3. Kutlay M, Colak A, Yildiz S, Demircan N, Akin ON et al. Stereotactic aspiration and antibiotic treatment combined with hyperbaric oxygen therapy in the management of bacterial brain abscesses. Neurosurgery. 2008;volume 62 Suppl 2():540-6.
    4. Petrikkos G, Tsioutis C et al. Recent Advances in the Pathogenesis of Mucormycoses. Clinical therapeutics. 2018;volume 40(6):894-902.
    5. Harry T. Whelan, Eric Kindwall et al. Hyperbaric Medicine Practice 4th Edition Best Publishing Company. 2017;.
    6. Tomoye E, Moon R et al. Undersea and Hyperbaric Medical Society, Hyperbaric Indications, 14th Edition: Intracranial Abscess . 2019;.
    7. National Baromedical Services. Introduction to Hyperbaric Medicine Primary Training Manual .;.
    8. Barnes RC. Intracranial abscess. Undersea & hyperbaric medicine : journal of the Undersea and Hyperbaric Medical Society, In.... 2012;volume 39(3):727-30.
    9. Ferguson BJ, Mitchell TG, Moon R, Camporesi EM, Farmer J et al. Adjunctive hyperbaric oxygen for treatment of rhinocerebral mucormycosis. Reviews of infectious diseases. 1988;volume 10(3):551-9.
    10. John BV, Chamilos G, Kontoyiannis DP et al. Hyperbaric oxygen as an adjunctive treatment for zygomycosis. Clinical microbiology and infection : the official publication of the European Society of Clini.... 2005;volume 11(7):515-7.
    11. National Fire Protection Association. "Hyperbaric Facilities" Chapter 14, NFPA 99 Health Care Facilities, 2018 Edition. . 2018;.
    12. Lambertsen CJ, Dough RH, Cooper DY, Emmel GL, Loeschcke HH, Schmidt CF et al. Oxygen toxicity; effects in man of oxygen inhalation at 1 and 3.5 atmospheres upon blood gas transport, cerebral circulation and cerebral metabolism. Journal of Applied Physiology. 1953;volume 5(9):471-86.
    13. Owen J. O'neill, MD, FUHM, Laura Josefsen, RN, ACHRN et al. Policy and Procedural Guidelines for Hyperbaric Facilities . 2017;.
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    15. Heyboer, Marvin; Sharma, Deepali; Santiago, William; McCulloch, Norman et al. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy: side effects defined and quantified. Advances in Wound Care. 2017;volume 6(6):210-224.
    16. Baromedical Nurses Association. Baromedical Nurses Association Guidelines of Nursing Care for the Patient Receiving Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy . 2022;.
    Topic 614 Version 5.0


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