Heat for wounds - water-filtered infrared-A (wIRA) for wound healing - a review

Gerd Hoffmann, Mark Hartel, James B Mercer
German Medical Science: GMS E-journal 2016, 14: Doc08

BACKGROUND: Water-filtered infrared-A (wIRA) is a special form of heat radiation with high tissue penetration and a low thermal load to the skin surface. wIRA corresponds to the major part of the sun's heat radiation, which reaches the surface of the Earth in moderate climatic zones filtered by water and water vapour of the atmosphere. wIRA promotes healing of acute and chronic wounds both by thermal and thermic as well as by non-thermal and non-thermic cellular effects.

METHODS: This publication includes a literature review with search in PubMed/Medline for "water-filtered infrared-A" and "wound"/"ulcus" or "wassergefiltertes Infrarot A" and "Wunde"/"Ulkus", respectively (publications in English and German), and additional analysis of study data. Seven prospective clinical studies (of these six randomized controlled trials (RCT), the largest study with n=400 patients) were identified and included. All randomized controlled clinical trials compare a combination of high standard care plus wIRA treatment vs. high standard care alone. The results below marked with "vs." present these comparisons.

RESULTS: wIRA increases tissue temperature (+2.7°C at a tissue depth of 2 cm), tissue oxygen partial pressure (+32% at a tissue depth of 2 cm) and tissue perfusion (effect sizes within the wIRA group). wIRA promotes normal as well as disturbed wound healing by diminishing inflammation and exudation, by promotion of infection defense and regeneration, and by alleviation of pain (with respect to alleviation of pain, without any exception during 230 irradiations, 13.4 vs. 0.0 on a visual analogue scale (VAS 0-100), median difference between groups 13.8, 95% confidence interval (CI) 12.3/16.7, p<0.000001) with a substantially reduced need for analgesics (52-69% less in the three groups with wIRA compared to the three control groups in visceral surgery, p=0.000020 and 0.00037 and 0.0045, respectively; total of 6 vs. 14.5 analgesic tablets on 6 surveyed days (of weeks 1-6) in chronic venous stasis ulcers, median difference -8, 95% CI -10/-5, p=0.000002). Further effects are: Faster reduction of wound area (in severely burned children: 90% reduction of wound size after 9 vs. 13 days, after 9 days 89.2% vs. 49.5% reduction in wound area, median difference 39.5% wound area reduction, 95% CI 36.7%/42.2%, p=0.000011; complete wound closure of chronic venous stasis ulcers after 14 vs. 42 days, median difference -21 days, 95% CI -28/-10, p=0.000005). Better overall evaluation of wound healing (surgical wounds: 88.6 vs. 78.5 on a VAS 0-100, median difference 8.9, 95% CI 6.1/12.0, p<0.000001). Better overall evaluation of the effect of irradiation (79.0 vs. 46.8 on a VAS 0-100 with 50 as neutral point, median difference 27.9, 95% CI 19.8/34.6, p<0.000001). Higher tissue oxygen partial pressure during irradiation with wIRA (at a tissue depth of 2 cm 41.6 vs. 30.2 mmHg, median difference 11.9 mmHg, 95% CI 9.6/14.2 mmHg, p<0.000001). Higher tissue temperature during irradiation with wIRA (at a tissue depth of 2 cm 38.9 vs. 36.4°C, median difference 2.6°C, 95% CI 2.2/2.9°C, p<0.000001). Better cosmetic result (84.5 vs. 76.5 on a VAS 0-100, median difference 7.9, 95% CI 3.7/12.0, p=0.00027). Lower wound infection rate (single preoperative irradiation: 5.1% vs. 12.1% wound infections in total, difference -7.0%, 95% CI -12.8%/-1.3%, p=0.017, of these: late wound infections (postoperative days 9-30) 1.7% vs. 7.7%, difference -6.0%, 95% CI -10.3%/-1.7%, p=0.007). Shorter hospital stay (9 vs. 11 postoperative days, median difference -2 days, 95% CI -3/0 days, p=0.022). Most of the effects have been proven with an evidence level of 1a or 1b.

CONCLUSION: Water-filtered infrared-A is a useful complement for the treatment of acute and chronic wounds.

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