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.
But studies have found that hair transplant swelling is one of the most common side effects of the 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. But there are ways to prevent and reduce hair transplant swelling. In this article, you’ll learn:
- what causes swelling and inflammation after FUT or FUE surgery
- the risks of swelling and inflammation
- how to prevent or reduce hair transplant swelling.
Symptoms of hair transplant swelling
Symptoms of swelling after a hair transplant usually start 2 or 3 days after your procedure and last 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 :
- Grade 0 — no swelling
- Grade I — swelling on the upper forehead
- Grade II — swelling on both the upper and lower forehead
- Grade III — swelling around the eyes and cheeks (periorbital oedema)
- Grade IV — black eyes.
If swelling reaches stages 3 or 4, the patient may be unable to open their eyes. But 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. But 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.
Why does hair transplant swelling happen?
Swelling is often caused by a build-up of fluid in or around cells and tissue in the body . Hair transplant surgeons inject local anaesthetic into the scalp to reduce pain. As this anaesthetic drains away after surgery, 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 .
The risks of hair transplant swelling
Swelling is rarely harmful. It usually clears up by itself after a few days with no lingering effects. But 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 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 is normally temporary, and your hair will start to grow back within a few weeks.
How common is hair transplant swelling?
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. And even if you do, swelling is usually mild, so most inflammation should have gone down by the time you head back to the office.
But there are ways to prevent hair transplant swelling. From frozen peas to steroid injections, there are many recommendations for how to prevent hair transplant swelling. So which ones actually work?
Can you prevent hair transplant swelling?
Steroids are the most effective way to prevent hair transplant swelling. These can be administered during, before, and/or after surgery. Research shows that steroids like Prednisolone, Methylprednisolone, and Triamcinolone can prevent and reduce hair 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:
- wearing a headband or adhesive tape around the forehead — this can prevent too much fluid from seeping into the tissue around your eyes and cheeks
- applying ice packs or frozen peas — a cold compress encourages dilated blood vessels to narrow, reducing inflammation
- elevating your head when you sleep — this encourages excess fluid to drain away, speeding up the drainage process to reduce swelling.
These methods are usually less effective than steroids, but may improve symptoms for some patients.
Tips for reducing hair transplant swelling
The best way to promote healing and reduce hair transplant swelling is to follow your surgeon’s aftercare advice.
- Take your medication as prescribed — your clinic may prescribe you a steroid tablet to take after surgery (usually Prednisolone) — learn more about hair transplant medication
- Drink plenty of water during and after surgery — dehydration and lack of water can increase inflammation, so staying hydrated is important 
- Sleep with your head raised at a 45° angle — this encourage fluid drainage and prevents you from dislodging your hair grafts when you sleep
- Don’t take ibuprofen — ibuprofen and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs can make you retain water and increase swelling around your forehead, so take paracetamol to manage any pain instead .
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.
Hair transplant recovery
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. But 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.
Book your free hair transplant consultation
If you’re seeing signs of male pattern baldness, it’s time to seek help. We’ve transformed hundreds of hairlines — just take a look at our before and after hair transplant gallery.
We can help you, too. Book your free consultation with our team today where you can ask questions to one of our hair loss specialists and learn more about the treatment options available to you. If you would like to get the most out of your visit, read our list of questions you really want to ask about hair transplant surgery.
- Hair Transplantation: Preventing Post-operative Oedema
- Complications of Hair Restoration Surgery: A Retrospective Analysis
- Management of Edema
- What is an inflammation?
- Complications in Hair Transplantation
- Suboptimal hydration remodels metabolism, promotes degenerative diseases, and shortens life
- Ibuprofen-induced localized frontal and temporal forehead swellings: A rare case report
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