What Are Burn Scars?
Burn scars occur when burns damage the skin. For burns that only affect the outer layers of the skin, the scar tissue fades over time. When the deeper layers of the skin are damaged, it causes more permanent scarring that can have a thick, leathery, or irregular appearance.
Serious burn scars fall into three categories:
- Contracture scars are thickened tissue that tightens skin, muscles and tendons.
- Hypertrophic scars are raised with pink, purple or red color.
- Keloid scars are raised, shiny bumps that extend outside the original burned area.
Burn scars may or may not be painful. Hypertrophic scars may feel itchy and warm to the touch, while contracture scars make it more difficult to have free range of motion. Appearance of burn scars includes:
- Color changes — The tissue may be a different color that is either darker or lighter than natural pigmentation.
- Texture — The scar may have a thick, tough or fibrous texture and can be shiny or smooth.
- Tissue changes — The tissue may be raised or indented.
There is no single ideal treatment for treating burn scars. They can, however, be treated to reduce, if not eliminate, the damage.
Nonsurgical treatments include:
- Custom inserts — When worn under gloves, bandages or garments, custom inserts can increase pressure on the scar tissue and improve healing.
- Massage and stretching — These techniques can help soften the skin and make the scar tissue less sensitive.
- Pressure garments — Pressure garments, which are worn around the clock, can reduce the amount of itching discomfort and provide protection for healing tissue.
- Silicone gel treatments — Thin sheets of medical-grade silicone can be worn alone or under garments or casts to help treat itching and dryness.
Surgical treatments are not able to remove scars entirely, but they can help make scars less noticeable and improve the limited range of motion resulting from contractures. A variety of surgical options are available to release tight scar tissue, including:
- Skin grafts — Healthy skin is transplanted from one part of the body to another. Skin grafts can either be a few layers of the skin (split-thickness) or all the layers (full-thickness).
- Local flaps — Healthy skin is moved to cover a nearby wound.
- Tissue expansion — A silicone balloon is used to stretch healthy skin, in order to allow it to be used to replace burned scar tissue.
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