Healing Skin After a Burn Injury
The skin is an amazing organ, and the largest in the body. It not only protects internal organs and prevents infection by bacteria; it also regulates temperature, fluid balance, and Vitamin D production.
When the skin is burned, this functionality is impaired—particularly when the burn damages the interior layers of the skin. Burn victims must be kept warm to avoid hypothermia, must be hydrated, and their skin must be protected. In severe burns, the skin is at risk from infection at the open wound site and from surrounding dead skin that could affect healing. In many cases, the doctors and nurses use “debridement” to help remove dead skin so the patient can heal.
Debridement is the removal of dead or infected skin that impedes healing at a wound site. Different types of debridement are indicated based on the amount of infected skin, or the nature and depth of the wound. These include: 1) autolytic (using dressings); 2) surgical; 3) enzymatic; 4) mechanical (water therapy); and 5) biological. Medical personnel may combine or change the debridement procedures based on the skin’s progress and the stage in the healing process. Healthcare insurance companies may influence these changes as well. Medicare, for example, tracks the progress of healing and requires that treatments be changed if not achieving expected outcomes.
Debridement can be a long and painful process but once completed, sets the stage for healing, scar reduction, and long term health.
Skin and Scars
Scar formation is the skin’s method of self-healing. It starts with a light skin growth that covers the exposed area. Because clean wounds heal faster, able patients should take an active role to prevent soiling the wound or otherwise damaging the new skin.
During the next 3-4 months a raised scar will arise in the damaged area. Over the next two years the scar will mature into its final form. During this period, and while the skin is more supple, scarring can be minimized using stretching exercises, scar tissue massage, special bandages, or a combination of methods recommended by a burn specialist. It is very important for the patient to diligently follow these methods for the best long-term outcome—especially if the scar is impeding movement in any way.
Severe scarring may require additional treatment or surgeries including the application of skin grafts and plastic surgery. New, innovative skin treatments are being developed every year to help burn patients heal better and return to their daily lives. Some of the more advanced treatments under development include using 3D printing to create graft skin.
The Phoenix Society is a burn support center that can help you understand your burn injury and treatments. They have weekly online support groups and guides for recovering health and getting back in the mainstream. The Wound Care and Scar Management page has more information about the skin’s healing process and scar formation. Another resource is an Image Enhancement site that offers an online class to teach burn victims how to use makeup and color choices for scar coverage.