What Is a Skin Graft?
A skin graft is a piece of skin that is removed from one area of the body and transplanted, or attached, to another. Skin grafts are often indicated for the treatment of skin loss from infection, burns, venous and arterial insufficiency ulcers, pressure ulcers, diabetic ulcers and very large wounds.
Skin grafts are performed by taking healthy skin from a place on the body called the donor site. Most skin grafts are what’s called a split-thickness skin graft, which usually includes the two top layers of skin (the epidermis) and the layer under the epidermis (the dermis). Extremely deep tissue loss may require a full-thickness skin graft, which takes the entire thickness of skin from the donor site, not just the top two layers.
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 its original blood supply and is never completely removed, only rearranged.
Skin Graft Healing and Aftercare
After the surgery, your doctor will give you skin graft aftercare instructions for the graft site and donor site. Unless your doctor says otherwise, you should keep the skin graft dry and try to avoid sunlight on the skin graft area. You’ll likely need to avoid activities that could stretch the graft site for up to four weeks.
Additional Skin Graft Aftercare Instructions
- Don’t remove the bandages on your skin graft or donor site until your doctor instructs you to.
- Keep the area around the skin graft clean and dry.
- Take any pain medicine prescriptions exactly as directed.
- Talk to your doctor about when you can safely return to work, start driving again, and exercise.
- Keep all of your follow-up appointments to ensure proper skin graft healing.
Compromised Skin Grafts
Although skin graft healing has a high success rate with proper aftercare, some grafts may become compromised if they don’t receive enough oxygen and blood flow. These insufficiencies are caused by a number of factors including tissue damage from radiation, diabetic complications, or infections. Skin grafts may also be compromised due to the formation of a hematoma or seroma near the graft.
Without rapid treatment, an unhealthy skin graft will ultimately die and need to be replaced.
What Does a Failed Skin Graft Look Like?
Compromised or failed skin grafts are characterized by continuous pain, numbness, fever, discoloration, redness, swelling, or a breakdown of tissue.
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.
If you’re experiencing these symptoms near the site of your skin graft, your wound may have been compromised.
Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT) For Skin Graft Healing
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy can significantly increase the likelihood of graft survival and enhance skin graft outcomes.
Regular HBOT sessions effectively treat compromised skin grafts and flaps by restoring and strengthening the natural body processes needed to ensure skin-grafting success. HBOT also helps to increase the viability of any compromised tissue, reducing the need for additional grafting procedures.
What is Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy?
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy makes it possible to deliver the concentrated oxygen needed for skin graft healing. Our skin cannot survive without oxygen, and the most effective way to provide skin cells with oxygen is through the blood. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy infuses the bloodstream with 100% concentrated oxygen.
Using a special hyperbaric chamber, HBOT helps oxygen dissolve directly into all of the body’s fluids so that it can thoroughly 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.
What Should You Expect During HBOT for Skin Graft Healing?
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.
The number of hyperbaric oxygen treatments needed for skin graft healing varies, so you will be evaluated by our provider during your first appointment to determine your treatment plan.
If you’ve experienced a compromised skin graft or are interested in maximizing your skin graft results with HBOT, visit one of our state-of-the-art locations in Dallas, Fort Worth, or San Antonio. Our skilled personnel will be happy to discuss your unique medical needs and help you find the best treatment plan for a full recovery. And remember—no doctor referral is needed.
Find an R3 Wound Care & Hyperbarics location near you or contact us to schedule an appointment.