What is Cryotherapy?
Cryotherapy is the local or general use of low temperatures in medical therapy. Cryotherapy is used to treat a variety of benign and malignant lesions, including keloid scars. The extreme low temperatures are reached using liquid nitrogen, an inert gas.
Cryotherapy and Keloids
Exposure to extremely cold temperatures for an extended period of time causes frostbite which can ultimately lead to loss of limbs (typical examples include loss of finger and toes in mountaineers and explorers who are not well prepared for cold and extreme weather conditions). The same principal is applied in treating keloids; essentially inducing precise and accurate frostbite in the keloid tissue by direct application of liquid nitrogen.
Method: Contact Cryotherapy
- After the keloid is cleaned with disinfectant, a metal probe attached to a pressurized 'cryogun' is laid on the surface of the scar. The liquid nitrogen gas is released by a trigger mechanism and allowed to flow onto the keloid until the ice that starts to form spreads to the edge of the keloid.
Method: Intralesional Cryosurgery
- Liquid nitrogen is sprayed directly on the keloid scar to cover the surface, and the skin is allowed to thaw out between cycles if more than one is needed. This method, according to some, freezes deeper into the keloid tissue.
Pain & Side Effects
- After cleaning the keloid with disinfectant, the scar and underlying tissue are numbed by injection.
- The keloid is pinched with one hand while the two prongs of a cryoneedle tool, which is attached to a pressurized cryogun, are pushed into the scar and run parallel across the longest part of the scar until it reaches the other side.
- Liquid nitrogen gas is released and ice balls will form where the probe is inserted. Ice will continue to form and connect the two balls, indicating that the keloid is completely frozen.
- Sterile gauze is applied to the keloid to cover the penetration sites and antibiotic ointment applied until healed.
- Pain is typically described as extreme. Patients often do not continue with secondary treatments due to the initial pain [Cryotherapy requires continuous treatment in frequent cycles].
- Swelling and blistering may occur immediately after cryotherapy.
- Hypo-pigmentation can occur and may be permanent, especially on patients with darker skin tones.
There is always a risk of the keloid scar returning bigger and larger after Cryotherapy.
Please discuss the potential risks in full detail with your specialist.