As a board-certified plastic surgeon, I like to think that I help to improve my patients’ lives in some small way. But it’s not always through elective procedures. Another aspect that gets far less attention is the role of a plastic surgeon in emergency care. I’m often called in to help treat traumatic injuries, like burns and deep cuts, because emergency cosmetic surgery can help guarantee minimal scarring when healing from an accident.
What can you do to minimize scarring after an injury?
Your actions in the immediate aftermath of a mild injury will have a big influence on how you’ll heal and the resulting scar. For a minor burn or a common cut, clean the wound with warm water and a gentle cleanser, and apply cool compresses. Then, apply a moisturizing ointment like Aquaphor and cover the wound with gauze or a bandage.
Ignore your mom’s advice about airing it out. That moisture’s going to enable skin cells and blood vessels to regenerate quickly. So reapply the ointment frequently. If a scab forms, it’s too dry. Once the wound heals, apply a scar-reducing balm daily and protect it from the sun.
If it requires stitches—keep in mind that any ragged cut that doesn’t receive stitches will scar—ask for the plastic surgeon in emergency care on call, or, if you have a relationship with a plastic surgeon, call them. An ER physician, understandably, is most concerned with stitching up the wound quickly and efficiently. Trouble is, it could result in some noticeable scarring. A plastic surgeon will do it with an eye toward minimizing the scar.
While it’s fresh on your mind, make an appointment to have the stitches removed within the next few days because waiting too long can create its own kind of scar.
If your wound is severe
In the case of a severe wound—a bad burn, a deep dog bite—it’s usually treated first with debriding, which removes the dead tissue, and then reconstructive surgery. In this case, make sure you contact a plastic surgeon in emergency care as soon as possible. These are a few of the most common kinds:
- With a skin graft, skin is removed from one area of the body and transplanted to another. It’s frequently used to treat burns, but it can also be used during breast and nose reconstruction.
- Microsurgery is employed to reattach a lost finger, toe, lip, or ear. The plastic surgeon uses a microscope that allows them to sew tiny blood vessels and nerves.
- A free flap procedure is most commonly associated with breast reconstruction after a mastectomy, but it’s also done following surgery to remove head or neck cancer. Essentially, tissue, muscle, or bone is transplanted along with the original blood supply from one area of the body to the surgical site in order to reconstruct the area.
The key in every instance of wound care, whether it’s a basic cut on your face or major surgery, is to treat it promptly. The faster you act, or seek help, the better your chances of preventing infection and minimizing any disfigurement.