How To Treat A Radiation Burn

A radiation burn is an adverse side effect that occurs on the skin of a patient undergoing treatment that includes radiation therapy. Radiation therapy describes a process where radioactive substances or high-energy beams are utilized to damage or destroy malignant cells in a patient's body. While radiation treatment sessions are usually spaced from a couple of days up to over a week apart, the cells making up the skin that has been exposed do not have enough time to repair themselves before the next session. After several sessions of radiation, a patient's skin experiences an imbalance in the ratio of skin cells being lost and the newly produced skin cells. The patient's skin in the exposed area usually peels excessively and may form blisters or ulcers.

Cover With Dry Dressing

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Areas that experience frequent contact with other parts of the skin or skin on skin contact are more vulnerable to inflammation and irritation when burned by radiation therapy. The irritating effects of skin on skin contact can be minimized by covering the area prone to the skin on skin contact with a dry dressing. The dressing should be made specifically as a non-adherent dressing like second skin types and those laden with non-adherent materials. These materials prevent the dry dressing from sticking to the raw parts of a patient's radiation burn. 

Dry dressings reduce the risk of an infection at sites where the patient's radiation burns have become open wounds, and at sites where moisture may build up. Moisture trapped between the skin folds can make an excellent breeding ground for bacteria and other pathogens that can result in several infections even if the radiation burn does not have any raw areas. Placing a dry dressing in the skin folds exposed to radiation therapy can help absorb any excess moisture and discourage the colonization of pathogens.

Topical Ointments For Pain

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When a radiation burn blisters, ulcerates, or forms sores, they can cause a significant amount of pain that is exacerbated by further radiation treatment. Patients can use topical ointments to help numb the pain caused by these wounds. Topical steroids and numbing agents can help patients who have radiation burns in areas that are very sensitive and have frequent contact with bodily fluids. Radiation burns in the pelvic area and nether regions can be excruciating when coming in contact with urine or sweat. 

Radiation burns that occur in the face and neck can make speaking, eating, and swallowing very difficult because of the amount of movement these activities produce. Radiation burns on the peripheral limbs can be painful for the same reason, especially the delicate skin around and in between the fingers, toes, and joints. Topical ointments can help manage a patient's pain by numbing the area when daily activities become too painful as a result of the radiation burns.

Course Of Antibiotics

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Patients who undergo radiation therapy have an immune system that is suppressed or does not work as well as it should. Radiation burns can cause the development of blisters, sores, and ulcers as the cellular damage in the skin tissues of the area to accumulate. Blisters, ulcers, and sores provide a way for foreign and malicious pathogens to enter the patient's body, where the immune system is not functioning well or at an optimal level. To help prevent the colonization of bacteria in the wounds caused by radiation burns, an individual may need to take a course of antibiotics. 

Antibiotics are a type of drug designed to slow down the growth of bacteria or destroy bacteria in a patient's body. Some types of antibiotics are more effective at the eradication of some types of bacteria over others. A patient who is prescribed antibiotics to prevent or treat an infection in their body due to their radiation burns cannot stay on this type of medication for a long duration. Bacteria can learn ways to avoid the effects of the antibiotic when a patient takes them for too long, which decreases the effectiveness of the medication.

Wear Loose Clothing

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When a patient experiences radiation burns on the skin in areas where they usually wear clothes, they can help the healing process by wearing loose clothing. Tight clothing can increase the amount of friction that can occur and cause the affected area to become further inflamed. Clothes worn over radiation burns should be cotton in composition as other types of material can constrict airflow to the area and exacerbate the effects of friction. A radiation burn that is raw in any part requires a steady supply of air to heal appropriately. 

Cotton allows the covered area to breathe but also protects against external factors. If any raw parts of a patient's radiation burn are near areas where a bra or waistband would touch, they should avoid wearing these garments until the burn is no longer an open wound. An individual who has a radiation burn should only go in the sun when they are wearing loose cotton clothing over the affected areas to minimize the risk of further damage to their fragile skin tissues.

Gently Wash With Soap And Water

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A patient with radiation burns needs to do what they can to prevent the development of an infection in the ulcers, blisters, or sores, which includes gently washing the area with soap and water. When washing areas affected by radiation burns, a patient can reduce the discomfort and pain by using lukewarm water instead of very cold or hot water. When washing the affected area, the patient should not allow the water from the sink faucet or shower to fall directly on the affected skin. 

Patients with radiation burns are advised not to use any sort of soap or shower gels with strong fragrances or exfoliating agents in them. Fragrance-free antibacterial soaps are best to use when there are raw parts to the radiation burn, and fragrance-free soaps with added moisturizing mechanisms are good for areas that are not raw. The use of sponges, washcloths, brushes, or any type of loofa should be avoided, as bacteria can grow and colonize on these shower tools easily.

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    Whitney Alexandra