“DOES SKIN HEAL AFTER A BURN? – UNDERSTANDING THE SKIN HEALING PROCESS”
Guest Blog Post By Noor UI Ain, Biochemist and Molecular Biologist
You’ve got a burn, and you've applied a burn cream to your skin as a first-aid measure. You’ve been applying it daily in hopes of healing your skin. But still, you're not getting rid of your burn scars, or that skin part is not properly healing. This is the moment when you need to gain a deeper understanding of the healing process, how your skin will heal, and how much time it will take to return to its normal state. Mostly, thermal injuries account for 90% of all burns, and the depth of injury depends on the temperature and duration of source contact.
Let's delve into the fascinating process of skin healing and regeneration of damaged tissue.
YOU GOT WHAT TYPE OF BURN?
Normally, there are four types of skin burns that most people encounter. They are;
Depth: Affects only the top layer of the skin(superficial).
Symptoms: Redness, pain, minor swelling, and sometimes peeling are its symptoms.
Common Causes: The common causes are sunburns, touching hot objects, or scalding from hot liquids.
Treatment: Usually, this can be treated at home and managed with cool water, pain relievers, and keeping the area clean.
Depth: It affects the upper epidermis and dermis (the deeper skin layers).
Symptoms: Blisters, intense pain, redness, and swelling.
Common Causes: Prolonged exposure to sun rays; touching hot liquids and objects for some time.
Treatment: professional medical care, wound cleaning, dressing changes, and potential pain management.
Depth: It damages all layers of the skin and can extend into underlying tissues; nerves can be damaged.
Symptoms: The skin may appear white, brown, or charred; it is often painless due to nerve damage.
Common Causes: Electrical accidents, severe scalding, prolonged exposure to hot surfaces, or fire.
Treatment: It requires immediate medical attention, often involving surgery, skin grafts, and specialized wound care.
Depth: It affects all layers of the skin, even tendons, ligaments, and muscles.
Symptoms: Severe pain due to extensive tissue damage. Charred or blackened appearance at that skin area.
Common Causes: High-voltage electrical injuries and prolonged exposure to extreme heat.
Treatment: Emergency medical care is essential and often involves a rehabilitation process.
Cause: It can be caused by exposure to corrosive chemicals or substances, such as acids or alkalis.
Symptoms: It can vary depending on the chemical, but skin discoloration, pain, and tissue damage are its major symptoms.
Treatment: Requires medical help and flushing it under water to neutralize the chemical effect.
Cause: It is caused by electric shocks, which can damage skin, nerves, and underlying tissues.
Symptoms: May have entry and exit wounds, damaged skin, and internal injuries.
Treatment: Urgent medical attention is crucial, as these burns can have hidden internal damage and complications.
DOES YOUR SKIN HEAL AFTER A BURN?
The answer is yes. The human body possesses remarkable restorative and regenerative capabilities, and when it comes to the skin, it undergoes systematic processes and pathways to repair after a burn injury. The degree of healing depends on the type of burn, age, and certain other factors.
As epidermis is derived from ectoderm, it has the potential to regenerate itself. Deep burns heal slowly and heavily depend on the migration of surrounding keratinocytes (cells that form keratin).
SKIN HEALING PROCESS:
Your integumentary system initiates a cascade of processes and events aimed at repairing the skin damage. The severity of your burn is also responsible for the type of healing duration and stages. If we divide these processes into a total of three phases, it would be easier to grasp.
The body's first response after a burn is inflammation. You did notice the redness, pain, and irritation in that area due to inflammation. This phase typically lasts for a few days and defends against infection. The blood vessels in that affected area constrict to minimize blood loss. After some time, it dilates, so the nutrients and blood cells can get there easily; now it is called the Zone of Hyperaemia. Elevated hemoglobin levels are mostly observed in the blood of affected people.
Burns involving more than 30% of the affected body area result in a subsequent systematic effect and the characterization of cardiovascular dysfunction, known as septic shock. White blood cells such as neutrophils and macrophages release cytokines (communicator molecules between immune cells). It induces redness, pain, and swelling in the affected area.
- PROLIFERATIVE PHASE:
Proliferation means division or regeneration. In this phase, skin cells near damaged tissue start to divide rapidly by the cell division process called mitosis. This one process is efficient for healing mild burns. Skin cells at the wound's edge form a protective barrier to stop the entry of microbes.
These specialized cells, called fibroblasts, produce collagen, which is necessary for maintaining the strength of the skin. Angiogenesis (the formation of new blood vessels) takes place.
- REMODELING PHASE:
Remodeling can take years or months. The collagen in the wound strengthens and matures in this prolonged phase.
Scar tissue forms and is noticeably different from the rest of the skin. The reason lies in the absence of sebum glands and follicles in the affected area. Scars may fade with time.
FACTORS THAT MAY AFFECT THE DURATION OF SKIN HEALING INCLUDE:
There are certain factors that can affect your healing duration.
- Age matters
- Sensitivity of that area
- Proper wound care
- Overall health of a person
Research has shown that in the event of a burn, immediate removal of the cause and cooling of the injured area are beneficial to the burn victim. Reducing the elevated temperature of the burned tissue improves the physiological response. Early excision and closure of the burn wound is sometimes described as the greatest advance in the treatment of patients with severe thermal injuries. Reconstructive burn surgery has greatly improved the quality of life for burn patients by restoring function and appearance to the affected areas. This type of surgery may involve skin grafts, tissue expansion, and other techniques to repair damaged tissue and minimize scarring.
Treatment depends on the type of burn and the burn’s depth and extent. Medical professionals employ various techniques, including ointments, dressings, skin grafts, and reconstructive surgery. Here are some general guidelines for all burns:
- Avoid popping any blisters.
- Use pain relievers as needed.
- Don't expose that area to water if it is severe.
- Cover with a clean, dry cloth.
- Keep the burn clean and dry.
- Elevate the affected area.
- Seek medical attention for extensive burns.
Always consult healthcare professionals for proper assessment in cases of severe burns. Prevention is key to minimizing the risk of getting burned. Being cautious around alarming objects and using safety equipment can prevent burns.
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