What to expect from your rhinoplasty recovery
If you're unhappy with your nose and are considering a permanent way to change the size, shape, or appearance of it, you're far from alone. In fact, according to the most recent ASPS Plastic Surgery Report, rhinoplasty, or nose reshaping, was the most popular cosmetic surgery in the US, with more than 352,500 people undergoing the procedure in 2020 alone. Even as the operation's prevalence in doctors' offices and in popular culture continues to grow, however, there remains quite a bit of confusion around the rhinoplasty recovery process – but that doesn't have to be the case.
How long does recovery take following a rhinoplasty?
Although recovery after any surgery will depend greatly on your individual health, aftercare, and the specifics of your procedure, most cosmetic surgeons offer their patients a general timeline of what to expect following a rhinoplasty.
"Immediate recovery after rhinoplasty takes a few weeks, but full healing can actually take one to two years," says Lara Devgan, MD, a board-certified plastic surgeon in New York City and an ASPS member. "But of course, individual characteristics and anatomic concerns will influence healing patterns."
How can your surgeon's technique influence your recovery?
There are two prominent methods for the operation: open rhinoplasty and closed rhinoplasty. The former is performed by making an incision across the columella, or the tissue that sits between nostrils and connects the nasal tip to the nasal base, in order to reshape the inside of the nose. A closed rhinoplasty, on the other hand, uses incisions inside the nostril. While each of these techniques has its pros and cons, they can also play a role in the degree of swelling, bruising, and scarring following the procedure.
"There is more tip swelling in an open approach than a closed approach, but the open approach is often necessary for tip refinement," explains Melissa Doft, MD, a board-certified plastic surgeon in New York City and an ASPS member. Additionally, patients with thicker, more sebaceous skin, those who require more extensive bony or cartilaginous work, those in need of cartilage graphs, and those with more extensive dissections may also need more healing time.
Is there anything you can do before surgery to minimize recovery time?
Despite what the word 'recovery' may imply, the process actually begins before you even undergo your rhinoplasty. In the week or two leading up to your surgery, it's important to avoid taking medications that can make you bruise, including blood-thinners like Aspirin, Advil, and Alleve, and fish oil. "Patients also can start taking arnica and bromelain prior to surgery and continue during the week afterwards to decrease bruising and swelling," adds Dr. Doft.
What is the immediate aftermath of a rhinoplasty?
Most doctors recommend taking about a week off from work and any real activity immediately following rhinoplasty. During this time, patients wear tapes and a splint on their nose and take pain medication for one or two days. "The sutures and splint are removed in the first week, and bruises under the eyes are mostly resolved by one week," Dr. Doft advises. At this point, most people are able to return to work or school, though the recovery process will continue thereafter.
While you can return to normal activity and even some mild exercise after two to three weeks, it's wise to steer clear of heavy workouts and contact sports for a bit longer. "I advise patients to avoid strenuous exercise for at least six weeks after surgery to allow proper healing to sit in," says Dr. Devgan. "The nasal bones and cartilage remain delicate as they heal for a year or more, and being cautious with activity patterns is important for best results. Inadvertently bumping the nose may disrupt bone that has not fully set or sutures that have not fully healed."
What should you expect from the transition to your new nose?
The most important thing to remember when recovering from a rhinoplasty and getting used to your new nose is that you must be patient. Even though you will see changes immediately and about half of the swelling is gone after six weeks, the final result will take about a year, if not two. "The tip of the nose is the area which stays swollen the longest, particularly in an open approach," Dr. Doft notes. "As the swelling or edema goes down, your nose may look crooked or asymmetrical, but it evens out after a year."
And more than anything, a rhinoplasty (or any cosmetic surgery) should be about improvement. "Many patients have been thinking about nasal surgery for years prior to actually undergoing a procedure," cautions Dr. Devgan. "For this reason, it is important to keep any plastic surgery procedure in perspective. I advise patients to think of plastic surgical results as an improvement over baseline rather than as a shortfall from perfection."
To find a qualified plastic surgeon for any cosmetic or reconstructive procedure, consult a member of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons. All ASPS members are board certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery, have completed an accredited plastic surgery training program, practice in accredited facilities and follow strict standards of safety and ethics. Find an ASPS member in your area.