Laser Therapy for Burns
A burn indicates any damage to your body’s tissues that might be caused by heat, chemicals, electricity, sunlight, or radiation.
Burns are classified into three types:
- First-degree burns—only the outer layer of skin is damaged.
- Second-degree burns—both the outer layer and the layer underneath is damaged.
- Third-degree burns—the deepest layer of skin and tissue underneath are damaged or destroyed.
Laser therapy for the treatment of burns utilizes what is known as “cold laser”; this refers to the use of low-intensity, or low levels, of laser light. This therapy can reduce pain and inflammation, especially for second and third-degree burns.
How Can Laser Therapy Assist Healing for Burns?
The main goal of laser therapy in healing wounds that occur as a result of serious burns is to stimulate the skin. Stimulation of the skin can reduce the risk of infection and promote healing, even after skin grafting in the case of serious burns. Laser therapy that can reduce pain and inflammation accompanying a burn and will thus promote circulation and movement. Laser therapy as an alternative medical treatment is not the same as the use of lasers in conventional medicine for surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation therapy; these lasers can be much more powerful allowing for tissue to be cut or destroyed.
Why Use Laser Therapy to Treat Burns?
Low-level or cold laser therapy is recognized as a viable alternative treatment to stimulate healing in the treatment of burns or other skin conditions, such as diabetic wounds. Laser therapy practitioners claim that treatment with lasers can reduce pain and inflammation, thus helping to heal wounds.
Low-level laser therapy (LLLT) has been said to produce the following results essential to healing wounds and burns:
- Increased tissue proliferation and regeneration
- Increased lymphatic flow
- Enhanced nerve regeneration and function
- Increased cell metabolism
- Increased circulation
- Decreased pain levels
Healing serious wounds such as those that occur with third-degree or some second-degree burns necessitates increased oxygen flow through the blood in order to heal. Stimulation is determined to be essential in assisting circulation, especially in diabetics whose oxygen flow is hampered by the disease.
In 2001, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) cleared certain laser equipment for biological use in various treatments and therapies. The FDA Center for Devices and Radiological Health provides a consumer staff for determination of the safety of laser equipment and laser manufacturers, and can be consulted when any question regarding safety arises.
Medical research and professionals have not thoroughly proven scientific claims of success in the treatment of burns with laser therapy. However, extensive use of light treatments for other conditions has provided data that indicates the therapeutic benefits of laser therapy. For instance, researchers have observed altered hormone levels in the body when laser therapy is used in the treatment of depression and sleep disorders. This data points to the validity of the value of laser therapy in both traditional and alternative medical treatments and therapies.
What is a Laser?
The term laser is an acronym for “light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation” and always indicates the use of light. When treating burns, the theory behind the use of lasers is that the stronger the light beam, the more stimulating and penetrating it is likely to be for the body.
Lasers are classified according to their potential to cause a biological effect—in this case, something that would have an impact on the human biology. They are divided into four different categories, and two sub-categories, as follows:
- Class I—cannot emit laser radiation at known hazard levels.
- Class I.A—special designation that applies only to lasers such as supermarket scanners, not intended for viewing, with an upper power limit of Class I—4.0mW.
- Class II—low-visible lasers that emit about Class I levels but not above 1 mW, with the concept that the human aversion reaction to bright light will be protective of the person.
- Class IIIA—intermediate-power laser (cw:1-5 mW), hazardous for intrabeam viewing and comprised partly of the pen-like lasers which almost entirely can be thus classified.
- Class IIIB—moderate-power lasers, or so-called “cold lasers” that have minimal power of penetration into the human body, considered “superficial” in their effect.
- Class IV—high-powered lasers with many therapeutic applications in medicine, used for cutting and ablating tissue in surgery, and with the power of deep penetration into the body to stimulate specific, desired effects in healing.
What are Burns?
Burns are a form of injury to the body that causes tissue damage. Burns are rated based upon their severity. First-degree burns, or common household burns, are those that would be considered minor. For instance, spilling hot water on the body, or a finger burn from a candle flame would be considered minor if they have not penetrated more than the outer layer of skin. It is important that the burn also not involve more extensive parts of the hands, feet, face, groin, buttocks, or a major joint. Simple first aid creams can relieve the burning sensation, along with over-the-counter pain analgesics to relieve any accompanying pain.
A second-degree burn will affect both the first and second layer of skin (also known as the dermis) causing blisters to form. The skin’s color will redden or become “splotchy”. These burns can produce more severe pain than first-degree burns, along with swelling. If the burn is no larger than 3 inches (7.5 centimeters) in diameter, it can be treated as a minor burn. If it covers a much larger area of the body, or if it is on the hands, feet, face, groin, buttocks, or a major joint, it will likely require medical help to safeguard against any serious complications.
Third-degree burns are those most likely to occur in serious fires or chemical spills, either in the home or industrial areas. The deepest layer of the skin is destroyed along with the tissues underneath the skin. This serious burn would likely require skin grafts in order to heal the body. Such burns can take months, and even years to heal, with and without scarring. A long-term treatment for this would likely require lengthy hospital stays, and ongoing physical and psychological therapy.
The most effective guard against the serious effects of burns is prevention. If you are burned, remember to assess the degree of the burn so you can seek the appropriate care. Treatment of a burn with laser therapy can speed healing time by stimulating circulation and cell growth.
The Mayo Clinic has additional information on first aid for burns.
U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Center for Devices and Radiological Health. Laser Facts.
Subtle Energies publishes additional information on lasers: Low Level Laser Facts.