Burn Center

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Healing

How burns heal

When you are burned, you experience pain because the heat has destroyed skin cells. Minor burns heal much the same way cuts do. Often a blister forms, which covers the injured area. Under it, white blood cells arrive to attack the bacteria and a new layer of skin grows in from the edges of the burn.

If a burn is very large or goes very deep, it can be dangerous. The new skin cannot form quickly enough to keep the bacteria out and an infection usually develops. As a result, serious burns are often treated with skin grafts.

What to expect during the healing process

Scars

If there is scarring across a body joint due to the healing process, many times it can limit movement of that area of the body. This happens because the body responds to the loss of skin by making the wound smaller. The skin on both sides of the joint comes together to heal the injured area. The result is a scar and it may not be possible to move the joint as fully as before the injury. Through therapy, it is possible to gain back much of the motion that was lost as a result of the injury.

Contraction

This occurs when the burn is deeper and the healing elements of the skin may have been destroyed and are not available to cover the open wound. When this happens, the body closes the wound by drawing on the surrounding skin. As the wound heals, it actually becomes smaller. The contraction process often results in a loss of normal movement for the affected area. Rehabilitation therapy is used to restore near-normal movement to the contracted areas.

Sensations

If a burn injury damages the nerve endings in the skin, the nerves will need to regrow. Throughout this regrowth period, the sense of touch may be affected. Because the sensation of touch is experienced through the skin, any areas that have nerve damage due to the injury may be less sensitive to touch. Nerve regrowth is usually a slow process and sensations may be permanently changed.

Perspiration

As a result of a burn injury, sweat glands and blood vessels on the skin may have been damaged. The blood vessels are surrounded by scar tissue and cannot expand and contract properly. Sweat glands cannot make moisture on the skin surface as they did prior to the injury. Because of the changes in the sweat glands, itching and abnormal sweating are often encountered as burn injuries finish healing.

Skin color

After a burn injury, the area of burned skin may appear red and inflamed. This redness gradually decreases and fades as the skin matures. It generally takes skin 12–18 months to finish healing and for skin to fade to a near-normal color.