Laser Treatment of Burn Scars Helps Military and Civilian Patients Improve Appearance and Functionality
Apr 20, 2012 - 4:10:07 PM
(HealthNewsDigest.com) - Kissimmee, Florida—Any soldier returning from Iraq and Afghanistan faces plenty of challenges when trying to reestablish a normal life. But when you have been severely burned and disfigured by an Individual Explosive Device (IED) planted above ground and intended for your face, the road back to normalcy is a much more difficult journey. Until now. Physicians, scientists and engineers at the 32nd Annual Conference of the American Society for Laser Medicine and Surgery in Kissimmee, Florida this week are reviewing innovative new laser treatments that can mitigate disfigurement and improve functionality of scarred tissue that results from severe burns.
Due to advances in medical care, the number of individuals who survive serious burns has increased in the U.S. to approximately 1 million per year. Unfortunately, many of those surviving burn victims have severe disfigurement.
“What we have learned recently is that early intervention with laser scar treatments can achieve extraordinary results, “said Dr. Jill Waibel, M.D., medical director at Miami Dermatology and Laser Institute in a presentation about Burns and Trauma at the ASLMS Conference on Friday, April 20. “The good news is that fractional ablative lasers have become an amazing tool for correcting both the aesthetic and functionality issues presented by serious burn scars,” Waibel said.
Waibel performed one of the first (if not the first) fractional laser treatments on burn patients in 2008 and used a fractional ablative laser to treat a burn patient in 2009. Since then she and her colleagues have been working on optimizing the technique and hope to publish a consensus paper this year. “Basically, we all believe that in combination with reconstructive surgery we think lasers are the gold standard that can help patients by increasing function of contracture scars and reducing the extent of disfiguring scars they often have,” Waibel said.
“Fractional ablative lasers vaporize the scar by heating the skin up to over 100 degrees Celsius,” Waibel explained. “The scarred area is replaced by brand new healthy collagen. Over a series of treatments, the skin appears much more normal. We have proven this both clinically and histologically.”
Waibel has visited Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland and the Naval Medical Center in San Diego to train physicians treating military patients to use the laser techniques she has developed. “IEDs are being placed at head level so we are seeing a lot more facial scarring in military patients,” she said.
Lasers have been especially effective in treating large body surface areas and when used in the early stages of scarring in combination with steroid treatments, according to Waibel.
“Scars tend to get worse 3-7 months after the injury,” Waibel explained. “The severe scarring typically doesn’t appear among patients during the time they’re recovering in the burn unit. We hypothesize and see it clinically that if we treat the scarring early, we can minimize the severity of the scar and see increased functional range of motion.”
“The hands of one of my patients were so scarred she couldn’t turn a door knob or put the keys in her car,” Waibel recalled. “After two or three laser treatments, however, she was able to take change out of her pocket.”
Waibel also treated a three-year-old girl who suffered severe burns. “She had horrible scars,” Waibel said. “But after two laser treatments, her skin tissue is now almost completely normal.”
Waibel said she and her staff are very passionate about the impact their laser treatments have on burn patients and sometimes shed some tears of joy at the outcomes they see. “We’re very excited to be able to treat these patients with laser procedures. It changes people’s lives.”
With over 4,000 members, the American Society for Laser Medicine and Surgery is the world’s preeminent resource for information regarding laser and related light energy, research, education and technology. Its mission is to promote excellence in patient care by advancing biomedical application of lasers and other related technologies worldwide. For more information about ASLMS and its 2012 Annual Conference, visit www.aslms.org. Online registration for the ASLMS Annual Conference and walk-on registration is open throughout the conference.
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