Burn-type injuries are among the most common to affect Americans today. Over three million cases are reported every single year, and these are only those severe enough to require immediate medical attention. Many go unreported. Burns can be the result of encountering high heat levels, but can also be due to exposure to acid or other chemicals, electricity, and many other causes.
What Are Burn Injuries?
Burns are injuries to your body’s tissue, usually to the outermost layers of skin. However, in severe cases, the injury can extend through all layers of skin into the muscle and deep tissue. They can be first, second, or third-degree in increasing severity, and they can be caused by more than exposure to heat or hot objects.
MedlinePlus of the US National Library of Medicine explains that
A burn is damage to your body’s tissues caused by heat, chemicals, electricity, sunlight, or radiation. Scalds from hot liquids and steam, building fires and flammable liquids, and gases are the most common causes of burns. Another kind is an inhalation injury, caused by breathing smoke.
How Common Are Burin Injuries?
Burns are exceptionally common thanks in large part to the vast number of causes. Sunburn alone accounts for a significant number of injuries each year. Add to that burns from electrical shock, from contact with heat sources, from accidents, and other situations, and you can begin to see just how common these injuries are.
What Are the Most Common Types of Burn Injuries?
As mentioned, burns are broken down into three categories. First-degree burns are the most common. These are relatively minor and only damage the outermost layer of skin. Generally, these burns cause redness and pain, but no lasting damage. They usually heal quickly.
Second-degree burns are more dangerous. These affect the epidermis and the second layer of skin and can cause swelling, as well as discoloration and blisters. The pain can be severe, and these burns may result in scarring, as well.
Third-degree burns are the most serious but least common. They reach through all layers of skin to the fat underneath. They can be white, brown, or blackened, and destroy the nerves, leading to numbness. Third-degree burns often need surgical aid in order to heal and are very susceptible to infections.
What Are the Common Causes of Burn Injuries?
The American Burn Association notes that the most common causes of burn injuries in the US are as follows, from most to least common:
- Contact with fire/flame
- Thermal burns
- Electrical burns
- Chemical burns
How Are Burn Injuries Treated?
Burn injury treatment varies depending on the type of burn and the severity. For instance, a mild sunburn might require nothing more than a little aloe vera and time to heal. First-degree burns are usually treated at home with basic burn cream and some over the counter pain reliever. Lidocaine spray can also be helpful in treating these mild burns. Note that icing burns is not recommended, as it can actually make the tissue damage worse.
Second-degree burns can often be treated at home, as well, depending on the degree of damage. Serious blistering may require medical attention, although many second-degree burns heal within a few weeks and leave no scars as long as you treat them with antibiotic ointment and clean them regularly. However, if the burn is to a sensitive area, such as the hands, face, groin, or feet, medical attention should be sought.
Third-degree burns always require immediate medical attention. These should never be treated at home, and will almost always leave scarring even with surgery. Serious third-degree burns may require skin grafts to heal.
How Does Stem Cell Therapy Benefit Burn Victims?
Stem cells are the body’s healers – they transform themselves into different tissue types depending on the need, ensuring that the body can rebuild itself after damage and injury. Because of this central role in healing, they are being heavily studied for their use in treating burn victims, particularly those with third-degree burns and extensive damage.
One study published in the journal Stem Cell Research and Therapy noted that
Tissue regeneration technology remarkably enhances skin repair via re-epidermalization, epidermal stromal cell interactions, angiogenesis, and inhabitation of hypertrophic scars and keloids.
A study published in the journal Pharmaceuticals, notes that
Stem cell therapy has emerged as a promising new approach in almost every medicine specialty...Severe burns have several indications for stem cell therapy, including enhancement of wound healing, replacement of damaged skin and perfect skin regeneration – incorporating skin appendages and reduced fibrosis, as well as systemic effects, such as inflammation, hypermetabolism, and immunosuppression.
A third study, this one published in the International Journal of Burns and Trauma, notes that
Stem cells accelerate burn wound healing by inducing neo-angiogenesis, collagen deposition and granulation tissue formation. They modulate the inflammatory response and reduce the risk of infection. They can regenerate skin appendages and halt the zone of stasis in acute burn injury.
In summary, stem cells in treatment of burns may be used IV, topically, by injecting around the burnt area and by application with amniotic membrane right over the burn. Combination treatment may work the best. In addition to healing and prevention of scar formation stem cells assist in fighting infections by helping patient’s immune system.
What Are Allogeneic and Autologous Stem Cells?
Patients should understand that both autologous and allogeneic stem cells are used today. Autologous stem cells are harvested from the patient’s body, while allogeneic stem cells are harvested from umbilical cord blood and tissue. In addition, autologous stem cells have a reduced healing factor due to their age and buildup of mutations, while allogeneic stem cells are youthful, energetic, and free of damage or mutations.
In the end, stem cell therapy may provide burn victims not only with faster healing, but reduced infection, less pain, and a reduction in scar tissue formation. However, no FDA-approved stem cell treatment is currently available, meaning that any treatments offered are strictly experimental. Patients should also ensure that the physician they choose understands the importance of using allogeneic stem cells, rather than autologous stem cells.