With more than 11 miles of blood vessels and 300 million cells, your skin is your body’s largest organ. It does everything from protect your bones to regulate your body temperature, so what happens when your skin sustains a severe injury?
Skin grafts and flaps can be used to efficiently treat skin wounds and help your entire body remain protected. Skin grafting is an especially powerful treatment when paired with natural hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) known to maximize results.
What Is a Skin Graft?
Skin grafting is considered one of the most essential techniques in plastic surgery and dermatology thanks to its versatility in treating traumatic wounds and burns. A skin graft treatment is performed by removing the top two layers of healthy skin from one area of the body and attaching that skin to the injured location.
Most skin grafts are obtained from donor sites normally hidden by clothing, including the buttocks and inner thigh. Since any donor site has healthy, unrestricted wound-healing capabilities, it replaces its lost skin quickly. Meanwhile, the skin graft itself is spread over the injected area and held in place by staples or stitches.
Types of Skin Grafts
The type of skin graft you receive after an injury is determined by the depth and severity of tissue trauma present.
Split-thickness grafts are commonly used to cover large injured areas by transferring two layers of skin over an injury: the top layer called the epidermis and the underlying layer called the dermis. While it’s true that split-thickness grafts heal quickly, they’re also fragile and require attentive care.
A full thickness graft, on the other hand, is used to treat highly visible injuries that cover a smaller area of the body but extend deep into the skin. They’re usually recommended for the face since the cosmetic outcome looks so natural. A full thickness graft is obtained by taking the epidermis, dermis, and the bottom layer of skin called the hypodermis from a donor site like the abdomen, groin, or forearm.
Why Would You Need a Skin Graft?
Skin grafting is recommended as a safe and effective treatment for many different injuries and conditions:
- Non-healing ulcers
- Large wounds
- Infections that caused skin loss
- Reconstructive surgery after skin cancer
Since skin grafting is performed with anesthesia, it’s a relatively painless procedure. Post-operative medications are also available to minimize pain during the healing process. When done properly and afforded the best care, skin grafts can successfully heal painful, chronic, and unsightly injuries on the body.
How Is a Skin Flap Different From A Skin Graft?
A skin flap serves the same purpose as a skin graft, but it’s created using a nearby piece of skin that’s still attached to the body. In other words, a skin flap maintains is original blood supply and is never completely removed, only rearranged.
Signs of a Healthy Skin Graft or Flap
Skin grafts should begin developing blood vessels and connecting to surrounding skin within 36 hours. If any complication prevents the graft from “taking” to its new location, symptoms may begin within 24 hours.
The most obvious sign of an unhealthy skin graft is darkening skin that lacks the pink appearance of healthy skin. A dying skin graft also won’t blanch or return to a normal skin color when it receives pressure.
Without rapid treatment, an unhealthy skin graft will ultimately die and need to be replaced.
Tips for Skin Graft Care
Strategic and preventive care improves skin graft success and ensures a smooth healing process. Make sure to protect your wound from any source of germs to reduce the risk of infection and support ongoing healing. It’s also important to follow these skin graft healing tips:
- Never let your wound dressing get wet
- Elevate your wound, if possible, to reduce swelling
- Avoid any movement that could stretch or injure the flap or graft
- Avoid all strenuous exercise until your doctor approves it
- Never scratch your wound, even if it itches
- Protect all dressings while you bathe to keep them dry
- Call your doctor if graft starts bleeding and doesn’t stop after 10 minutes of gentle pressure
In addition to the at-home techniques your doctor recommends to support effective skin graft care and healing, you can also utilize hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) to accelerate healing and support better wound recovery.
How to Improve Skin Graft Healing With Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy
The air we breathe is about 21% oxygen. It keeps us alive, but it doesn’t accelerate the transportation of oxygen through the blood. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy, on the other hand, infuses the bloodstream with 100% concentrated oxygen.
Regular HBOT sessions effectively treat compromised skin grafts and flaps by restoring and strengthening the natural body processes needed to ensure skin-grafting success.
How Does Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy Work?
Hyperbaric wound care offers a safe, natural, and efficient medical therapy for wounds that may need additional support to properly heal. It uses 100% oxygen to stimulate accelerated healing capabilities within the body.
Under normal circumstances, red blood cells transport oxygen through the blood. When important tissues become deprived of oxygen as a result of poor blood circulation or deficient blood oxygenation, causing cells to fail to produce the energy needed for bacterial defense, collagen synthesis, regeneration, and other essential reparative functions.
Instead, the healing process slows until it comes to a full halt. Simply inhaling oxygen through normal breathing doesn’t offer the power to revitalize healing functions — the body needs concentrated oxygen flow to overcome its deficiencies.
HBOT makes it possible to deliver the concentrated oxygen needed for wound healing. This therapy delivers oxygen directly into all of the body’s fluids so that it can permeate areas where circulation has become reduced or blocked.
This essential benefit of hyperbaric wound care stimulates and supports the body’s own healing process. When white blood cells receive enough oxygen, they can effectively kill bacteria, reduce swelling, and allow the rapid reproduction of new blood vessels. HBOT even enables cells to build new connective tissue and improve organ function.
Overall, HBOT is the ultimate supplemental treatment for patients recovering from skin grafting.
Maximize Your Skin Graft Results
Today’s HBOT technology is so advanced that it’s a relaxing and enjoyable experience — especially when you visit a practice committed entirely to hyperbaric medicine like R3 Wound Care and Hyperbarics.
When you visit R3, you receive HBOT in a private setting with the latest hyperbaric technology. Your treatment takes place in a clear acrylic chamber where you can comfortably recline and view your surroundings at all times. You can sleep, watch TV, listen to music, or just relax as therapeutic oxygen rejuvenates your body.
Learn more about the wound care specialists at R3 Wound Care and discover the true power of HBOT to transform your body’s healing powers after skin grafting.
Lana Cameron has been practicing for over 30 years in several healthcare settings as a clinician and administrator. Her areas of practice include hospital acute care and primary care group practice. Lana received her BSN from UTMB Galveston, a MSN from Texas A&M Corpus Christi, and Post-Masters Certificate from UTHSC San Antonio. Lana is married and has five wonderful children.