Recovering from painful burn injuries is often a physically and emotionally demanding process that may seem to have no end. As the wounds begin to heal, scars may begin to form, and often those scars require special treatment of their own.
The most common complication of a moderate to severe burn injury is the development of hypertrophic burn scars. Normally, the collagen fibers of the skin are arranged in a very organized manner, but as new skin starts to develop in the area of the burn injury, the collagen protein develops in a highly disorganized manner, giving the skin a texture and color that is often strikingly different than the unharmed skin.
Depending on their extent and location, hypertrophic scars can limit a person’s ability to move and function normally. When this happens, the scars are called contracture. For instance, if the scars affect a person’s leg joints, they may have difficulty using stairs or bending over.
Hypertrophic burn scars often are red or purple in color, dry, itchy, and highly sensitive to sun and chemicals. Sometimes excessive dryness can result in cracking and breakdowns (or ulcerations) in the skin, which prolongs healing.
The scars also have emotional and psychological consequences for victims, especially if they cover a wide area and affect the face. While burn injuries usually heal in time, for some the emotional healing can take a lifetime. People with burn scars may become extremely self-conscious and choose to avoid social activities and situations, leading to isolation, depression, and a diminished quality of life.
Moderate burns normally take two to three weeks to heal, while deeper, more severe burns that require skin grafting take longer than weeks to heal.
Scars typically develop in the months after the burn injury occurs, then peak around six months. Within a year to a year and a half, hypertrophic scars will become more mature. The raised, discolored scars will usually flatten out to some extent, fade in color, and become softer and less sensitive to the touch.