Laser treatment of burn scars helps military and civilian patients

Kissimmee, FL--Physicians, scientists and engineers at the 32nd Annual Conference of the American Society for Laser Medicine and Surgery (ASLMS) this week are reviewing innovative new laser treatments that can reduce 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. These people include injured soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.

“What we have learned recently is that early intervention with laser scar treatments can achieve extraordinary results," said Jill Waibel, M.D., medical director at Miami Dermatology and Laser Institute in today's presentation about burns and trauma at the ASLMS conference. “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 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 greater than 100°C, 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 (individual explosive devices) are being placed at head level so we are seeing a lot more facial scarring in military patients,” she said.

“Scars tend to get worse 3-7 months after the injury,” noted 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. 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.”

For more information about ASLMS and its 2012 Annual Conference, see

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