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Nose jobs. We’ve all heard of them and know a friend or celebrity who has had one, but what does this classic plastic surgery procedure actually entail? Let’s run through some quick basics. A nose job, or rhinoplasty, is a procedure performed by a board certified plastic surgeon to alter the size, shape, and angle of the nose. When combined with a septoplasty, certain rhinoplasties can also be used to correct breathing issues, though those are a bit more specialized than what we’ll cover here.
A rhinoplasty can be performed open (meaning significant incisions and exposure of underlying tissues) or closed (smaller incisions and no exposing of the nasal structures). Obviously, larger incisions mean more dramatic results but also longer recovery times. Any surgical procedure (open or closed) will have some level of downtime and side effects, but candidates electing for open rhinoplasty procedures should expect to be recovering longer than those pursuing closed surgeries. Generally speaking, closed rhinoplasty surgery candidates can expect a few weeks of recovery, while open rhinoplasty patients can expect a few months.
What to Expect During Rhinoplasty Recovery
So, what’s it actually like to create your dream nasal aesthetic? Open or closed, all candidates can expect pain, swelling, and bruising following this cosmetic surgery. While actual recovery time will vary depending on how invasive your procedure is and how your body naturally heals, one to two weeks is a safe amount of time to assume you’re going to feel significantly uncomfortable and not be looking your best.
Another factor to consider is how you recover from general anesthesia, if that is a component of your procedure. Many people feel nausea, drowsiness, and slightly disoriented in the hours following anesthesia. These side effects typically resolve quickly, as the sedating medications wear off. Even so, it is a part of the immediate post-surgical recovery.
The Ultimate Rhinoplasty Recovery Timeline
Ok, let’s get into the nitty gritty of rhinoplasty recovery. We’ll start with how to utilize your pre-op time to possibly minimize the intensity of your post-op experience and then we’ll look at what you can expect from the first few days, weeks, months, and, yes, even years. Remember, there will be timing differences between closed and open procedures, and we’ll note this as we move along the timeline.
It should also be noted that your surgeon should provide comprehensive pre- and post-op instructions, and you should always defer to the advice of your medical team. This is simply meant to serve as a guide.
- Stop smoking, drinking alcohol, taking certain supplements, and reduce caffeine intake a few days prior to surgery. This reduces inflammatory markers and promotes overall health optimizing you for a successful and speedy recovery.
- Get your supplies together! Have the essentials like ice packs, pain and inflammation medications (like aspirin, acetaminophen, and ibuprofen), nasal sprays, any medications your doctor advises (like antibiotic ointments), and a comfortable pillow for your neck.
- Depending on how you react to anesthesia, you may feel drowsy, disoriented, and nauseous. Even those of us lucky enough to tolerate anesthesia well should expect to feel sore and swollen. Your throat and mouth will be dry, your face will feel numb and tingly, and you might have a bit of a tension headache. These immediate side effects should wear off within a few hours.
- Remember that part of your general anesthesia is usually stronger pain medications that will have you waking up with numbness but not sharp pain. As these medicines get worked out of your system, you should expect to feel a more intense (but not severe) pain. Your doctor will tell you what pain medicines are most appropriate for you post-op.
- So, you hopefully got some sleep lying on your back with your head elevated while not breathing through your nose (fun!). You ideally kept an ice pack and your pain or inflammation meds not too far away. Medicines like ibuprofen or acetaminophen are important not only for pain control, but also for keeping inflammation down. This promotes faster recovery.
- You’re probably feeling soreness and discomfort in your mouth and around your upper lip, nose, cheeks, eyes, and forehead. You may also feel some sinus pressure and have a drip in the back of your throat.
- You’ll be sporting some bruises around your eyes, nose, and above your lips (this is more common for open rhinoplasty patients).
- Hopefully your throat is feeling better and you can tolerate some soft foods. Some people may find chewing uncomfortable, but cold foods, like ice cream, can make your mouth a little numb, which may be nice. Make sure to drink plenty of water!
- Also, it’s not unusual to have some bleeding from your nose. Remember that your body is working hard to heal your wounds and it’s sending a lot of blood with nutrients and infection-fighting cells to the area. This creates a lot of inflammation that you can control with meds and ice packs.
- Remember to always keep your head elevated!
Day 2 to Day 7
- If you had bandages or a nasal splint placed during the procedure, it will usually get removed somewhere between day five and day seven.
- During this first week, don’t expect to go to work or be doing anything strenuous. This is the time to binge watch TV, finally organize your inbox, or learn a new language… whatever works for you.
- Ok, so now you can probably start thinking about getting back to some aspects of your life. If you need to travel home from your procedure, it’s now safe to get on a plane. You can get creative with your makeup routine and think about heading out for some errands or back to the office.
- It’s important to note that open rhinoplasty candidates may spend week two recovering in a manner similar to week one. This will vary by individual. By the end of the two weeks, however, both open and closed rhinoplasty candidates can expect to be out of the house again.
- Attention eyeglass wearers: It typically takes 14 to 21 days for your doctor to tell you it’s ok to start wearing your glasses for short periods of time (probably not more than 30 minutes at once).
Week 3 to Week 12
- For most candidates, it’s safe to get that blood pressure up again. Your doctor will give you specific instructions, but, by week three or four, you can generally resume more strenuous activities and exercise and slowly ramp up the intensity over a few days as tolerated. Keep in mind, exercise at this time will most likely cause your nose to swell up again, but this should go down within a few hours.
- It’s worth repeating that during this entire time swelling will continue to go down and it is important to protect your nose from trauma. Save playing catch for a while.
6 months to 1 Year
- Swelling will become considerably less noticeable in the bridge area of the nose around three months post-op, the middle portion around six months, and the nasal tip around one year.
- There’s not much to do during this time other than be mindful of keeping your nose protected from trauma and to continue to take general precautions to minimize swelling.
1 to 3 Years
- This is a big span, we know. By the one-year post-op mark, most rhinoplasty patients see their final results now that skin, soft tissue, muscle, and bone has healed and swelling has resolved. Depending on the patient, this process could take up to 36 months.
Tips to Improve Your Rhinoplasty Recovery
Now that you know more about the recovery timeline associated with a facial plastic nose surgery, we’ve got some tips to help you progress along your healing journey as efficiently and effortlessly as possible. Like we mentioned, every individual body heals at its own pace, but there are definitely some universal truths that augment healing.
1. Be Mindful & Be Patient
We’re not being deliberately vague here. Your body will let you know what it needs. If you feel like taking it slow one day, do it! If you suddenly have the desire to get some fresh air, go for it (albeit you are medically cleared for it)! The mind-body connection exists and the more you respect it the easier your recovery will be. Patience rules the day, so be kind to your body and slowly ease yourself back into your routine without forcing things like your return to work or working out.
2. Eat well, sleep well, & stay hydrated
This is just good life advice, but, especially during times of increased stress on the body (think: following a major plastic surgery), the more you nourish yourself and properly rest the better. Some of the best repair hormones only get cycled through your blood while you sleep, so be like a pro athlete during the months following your surgery and get those eight hours. Your nose (and your entire being) will thank you for it.
Additionally, eating a balanced diet free from processed foods in combination with plenty of water and taking it easy on caffeine and alcohol will naturally reduce inflammation and help lessen swelling more quickly (check out our guide to what to eat before and after cosmetic procedures). Oh, and don’t smoke. Our advice is to never smoke, but it’s particularly vital to lay off after a major surgery.
3. Elevate & Ice
Cold compresses and keeping your head up (literally and metaphorically) will lessen blood flow to the area and reduce the amount of fluid accumulation in and around your nose. While blood does bring all the good nutrients and healing cells, it can also leave large deposits of infection-fighting cells and other materials you don’t really need hanging around. This is why icing for periods of time (i.e. not continuously) creates the best balance of blood flow.
4. Moderate Your Activities
This probably doesn’t need to be said, but, just in case, three weeks after your rhinoplasty is not the time to begin your CrossFit training regimen. Vigorous exercise makes blood pressure increase. Increased blood pressure means increased swelling. Intense exercise also naturally increases the stress hormone cortisol. While it’s great in moderation when you're healthy, it’s not ideal in the months following a major surgery.
Other activities to avoid or limit: blowing your nose, sun bathing, and wearing glasses for long periods of time.
Rhinoplasty Side Effects & Complications
So now that we’ve thoroughly covered the days and weeks following a rhinoplasty procedure, let’s review what you can definitely expect versus what may or may not occur. Every rhinoplasty patient should expect at least one to two weeks of bruising and at least four to six weeks of noticeable swelling. Nasal congestion, achiness, nasal drainage (both down the back of the throat and out the nostrils), and headaches are all common side effects that will resolve within a week or two and can be mitigated with medications.
While rare, more serious complications are possible. Infections of the nasal tissues are a possible complication of rhinoplasty and can be treated with antibiotics. Permanent numbness from nerve damage, intractable pain, asymmetry, septal perforation, and scarring are more significant complications that may require further surgical revision or be unable to be fixed.