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September 4, 1981

'Air therapy' history offers lessons for clinicians today

JAMA. 1981;246(10):1064-1066. doi:10.1001/jama.1981.03320100010004

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Hyperbaric air therapy apparently was attempted before anyone knew what oxygen was.

According to Charles W. Shilling, MD, of the Undersea Medical Society (UMS), the first attempt to treat patients in a chamber in which pressure could be altered seems to have been made in Britain more than 300 years ago. The physician's surname was Henshaw, but Shilling says that his first name, his methods, the conditions he treated, and most other facts about him are unknown.

Henshaw's experiments were conducted at least a century before the discovery of oxygen. But they took place long after humans began encountering problems associated with air pressure.

For example, points out E. Converse Peirce II, MD, who is Henry Kaufmann Professor of Hyperbaric Surgery, Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York, a primitive forerunner of the diving bell already had been invented and was being used for underwater salvage work more than 2,300