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Tissue Expansion and Burns

Tissue expansion is a procedure that allows the body to grow extra skin. It is done by inserting a silicone balloon expander under the skin near the area to be repaired (such as scars happening after burns) and then gradually filling the balloon with salt water over time causing the skin to stretch and grow (keeping the skin under tension causes new cells to form).

Tissue expansion is used in conditions such as breast reconstruction surgery, repairing burns, scars, large birth marks, hairy areas such as the scalp (the extra skin is still able to grow hair).

After the skin stretches the scaring is surgically removed and the expanded skin is extended to meet healthy un-scarred skin.

The advantage of this procedure is that it provides a good match of color, texture and hair bearing quality. The expanded skin has a smaller risk of dying because the skin remains attached to the donor’s area blood and nerve supply. Scars are often less apparent because the skin is not removed from one area and transferred to another.

The main disadvantage of the procedure is related to the length of time needed to grow/stretch the skin which may be as long as three to four months. The expander during the expansion process appears as a bulge. Frequent visits to the surgeon are required for salt water injection to expand the balloon. There are risks related to the anesthesia and the surgery such as infection and bleeding.

The silicone balloon expander is inserted by a plastic surgeon under the skin in an initial surgery followed by salt water injection through a period of time than the expander is removed and the new tissue is put in place. During this process most patients feel temporary discomfort which can be controlled by medication prescribed to you by your physician.

You should contact your physician if you see any indication of wound infection. You have to avoid applying any undue pressure to the area around the tissue expander such as poking it or wearing tight clothes over the area.

Tissue expansion can be an effective method to make scars that result from burns less noticeable; it is not a replacement for skin graft. Skin grafts are usually done when the tissue is destroyed in severe burns.

This information is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice; it should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. Call 911 for all medical emergencies.

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