Almost all hair restoration surgery patients experience some hair transplant side effects, whether it’s soreness and scabbing after a hair transplant, or complications like infection. Serious complications are rare, as hair transplants are generally very safe.
However, some studies have found that swelling after a hair transplant is one of the most common side effects of the surgical procedure, with approximately 50% of patients experiencing post-transplant swelling [1-2].
Swelling (also known as oedema) can be unsightly, especially if you want to get back to work quickly after your hair transplant. However, there are ways to prevent and reduce swelling. In this article, you’ll learn:
Swelling after hair transplant surgery usually starts 2 or 3 days after your procedure and lasts around 3 to 4 days.
Most of the swelling occurs around your forehead and eyelids. For some patients, swelling is mild, and won’t interfere with your daily routine. For others, the effects are much more severe. One research study categorised swelling severity into 5 grades :
If swelling reaches stages 3 or 4, the patient may be unable to open their eyes. Even in severe cases, the swelling is self-limiting, and will eventually go down by itself .
James Walton, a Wimpole Clinic patient, had grade 2-3 swelling around his forehead and eyes following his FUE hair transplant procedure. Fortunately, the swelling quickly went down, leaving him with no visible signs of inflammation (and a fantastic head of hair to boot).
Find out more about James’s hair transplant journey in our hair transplant clinic reviews.
Swelling after hair transplant surgery is often caused by a build-up of fluid in or around cells and tissue in the body . Hair transplant surgeons inject a local anaesthetic into the scalp to reduce pain. As this anaesthetic drains away after the procedure, it can cause swelling around the forehead and face.
Inflammation is another common cause of swelling. When you have an injury, your blood vessels around the wound dilate so that more red and white blood cells can reach the area, fighting infection and promoting healing . This helps your hair transplant heal more quickly, but in the short term, the area may be red and puffy.
Swelling is a very common side effect of any kind of surgery, so it’s unsurprising that it affects so many hair transplant patients. Factors like loose skin, the age of the patient, and the length of the procedure can also contribute to excessive swelling .
Swelling is rarely harmful. It usually clears up by itself after a few days with no lingering effects. However, there are circumstances in which swelling can cause problems.
If you’re unable to open your eyes due to swelling, driving and operating heavy machinery is dangerous to you and to others. Avoid these activities until the swelling goes down and you can see normally.
Excessive or long-term swelling might also be a sign of a hair transplant infection, especially if it’s accompanied by pus, pain, or itchiness. Alert your consultant if the swelling continues beyond 1-2 weeks.
If swelling happens quickly or immediately after your surgeon administers the anaesthetic, this can be a sign of anaphylaxis. Anaphylaxis is a rare but life-threatening allergic reaction and needs urgent medical attention. All reputable UK hair transplant clinics will carry EpiPens to treat anaphylaxis and have trained staff who can use them. Outside the UK, there have been some reported hair transplant deaths due to anaphylaxis.
If you’ve experienced anaphylaxis before, make sure you tell your hair transplant surgeon about this in advance.
Excessive swelling and inflammation can also lead to hair loss in your donor area . While this can be distressing, donor effluvium (the shedding of hair follicles in the donor area) is normally temporary, and your hair will start to grow back within a few weeks.
Swelling is among the most common side effects of both FUE and FUT hair transplantation. In one study, 55% of patients developed swelling — the remaining 45% avoided this thanks to steroid treatment . Other research found that post-operative oedema was the most common side effect of hair transplant surgery, with 42% of patients experiencing swelling .
So if you don’t take any preventative measures, it’s pretty much a coin toss as to whether you’ll develop swelling. Even if you do, swelling is usually mild, so most inflammation should have gone down by the time you head back to the office.
Fortunately, there are ways to prevent swelling post-hair transplantation. From frozen peas to steroid injections, there are many recommendations for how to prevent post-surgical swelling. So which ones actually work?
Steroids are the most effective way to prevent swelling from hair transplants. These can be administered during, before, and/or after surgery. Research shows that steroids like Prednisolone, Methylprednisolone, and Triamcinolone can prevent and reduce transplant swelling [1-2].
Steroids can be taken as tablets before and after your procedure. They can also be injected, or combined with the local anaesthetic.
Other non-steroidal methods for swelling prevention include:
These methods are usually less effective than steroids but may improve symptoms for some patients.
The best way to aid in the healing process and reduce post-transplant swelling is to follow your surgeon’s aftercare advice.
Remember that swelling is a short-lived side effect of hair transplant surgery, and should clear up by itself a week or so after your procedure.
Swelling is a normal part of the hair transplant recovery timeline. It’s one of the reasons why we recommend taking some downtime after a hair transplant since it can be shocking if you’re unprepared.
Learn more about what to expect through the hair transplant recovery process, and when you can expect to see new growth in our hair transplant growth chart.
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