Rhinoplasty Recovery: Tips + What To Expect
Originally published July, 25, 2017. Updated on January 14, 2022 with addition information.
Rhinoplasty, or nose surgery, continues to rank among the top 5 most popular plastic surgery procedures in the United States. One of the reasons for the popularity of rhinoplasty is its ability to yield dramatic results since the nose is a major focal point that determines facial appearance. Additionally, rhinoplasty can be performed to address a variety of issues including nasal deviation (often through injury) and breathing issues.
As with any surgical procedure, the recovery process differs from individual to individual. This post will give you a general idea of what to expect after a rhinoplasty procedure, along with some tips on making your recovery as pleasant and painless as possible.
Rhinoplasty Recovery Basics
Nose surgery is typically performed under general anesthesia as an outpatient procedure. Although you’ll be able to return home the day of your surgery, you’ll need to have a friend or family member drive you and stay with you for the first 24 hours.
Expect to take one week off from school, work, or other commitments. For the first several days, keep your head elevated and use ice packs to reduce swelling and bruising. Nasal dressings, sutures, or splints (if used) are usually removed at the end of the first week. By 10 days, remaining bruises can be hidden with make-up, making this the time when most patients feel comfortable returning to public activity.
Depending on the extent of your procedure it may take 4-6 weeks for the majority of swelling to subside. However, some degree of swelling could continue for up to 1 year 1 year post surgery. Numbness or abnormal skin sensation around your nose may also occur for as long as 3-6 months. Nose appearance may continue to improve over the next 2 to three years post procedure, contingent on the thickness of the skin and the exact rhinoplasty technique performed.
Recovery Timeline: Milestones & Restrictions
Most rhinoplasty patients can expect to return to work (non-strenuous physical activity) within two weeks of their procedure. However, depending on the extent of your procedure it may take 4-6 weeks for the majority of swelling to subside.
Here’s a basic recovery timeline:
2 to 3 Days After Rhinoplasty: During this period, you will feel moderate pain (which can be managed through medication) and swelling. You may also experience nausea immediately following your procedure. This is usually from a combination of anesthesia effects and swallowed blood. We advise patients to sleep on their backs with their head elevated by pillows so it is higher than their hearts to limit swelling. You should limit physical activity and refrain from taking aspirin or ibuprofen. Staying hydrated during this time minimizes pain and improves recovery.
1 Week After Rhinoplasty: You can resume normal daily activities, although heavy lifting and strenuous activity should still be avoided. Any splints or stitches are typically removed by the end of the week. Pain, bruising, and swelling diminish greatly, however it still will be hard to see the final results of your procedure.
2 Weeks After Rhinoplasty: Bruising and swelling is significantly reduced to the point where it’s not noticeable to the casual observer. You will feel comfortable enough to return to work by the middle of the second week. Mild exercise may be resumed.
3 Weeks After Rhinoplasty: By now the swelling has settled enough so that you are happy with what they see and are confident in all of your social interactions. However, nasal obstruction may still be present, although far better than during the first week.
1 Month After Rhinoplasty: You are cleared to resume normal (moderate) exercise and physical activity. Swelling is improved over the bridge, but the tip of your nose is still swollen and poorly defined.
3 Months After Rhinoplasty: 80% of the swelling is gone but the tip of your nose will continue to feel numb and very stiff.
1 Year After Rhinoplasty: Most of the nasal swelling is gone. The tip appears better refined. However, the final result may take up to 2 or 3 years, depending upon the thickness of your skin and how much surgery was done. This is particularly true in revision rhinoplasty patients.
Returning to Exercise After Rhinoplasty
Everyone heals on their own timeline based on genetics, age, and the extent of their surgery. Returning to exercise typically goes as follows:
- Week 1-2: Return to light activity such as walking. Avoid bending over or lifting heavy objects. Protect your nose from impact.
- Week 3-4: If you exercise, you may resume low-impact cardiovascular activities. Continue to avoid contact sports.
- Week 5-6: Resistance workouts and strength training may resume. Consult with your doctor before returning to strenuous, high-impact activities.
Rhinoplasty Recovery Tips
Complying with the following tips can improve recovery time and final outcomes.
Follow All Post-Surgical Instructions
Follow your surgeon’s post-operative instructions above any other information you’ve received, including this post. Your surgeon will send you home with specific instructions regarding medications and when to take them, wound care and infection prevention, and when to return for your follow-up exam.
Smoking and other nicotine products constrict blood flow, making it challenging for your body to heal. For the best rhinoplasty results, quit smoking at least 4 weeks before your surgery. Continue to abstain for as long as possible after rhinoplasty, but a minimum of 4 weeks more is prudent. Who knows, maybe you will even manage to quit after that.
A well-hydrated body heals faster. Water helps flush out toxins post-anesthesia and reduces swelling by prompting the wound to drain properly. Remember that you will be dehydrated at the beginning of your surgery because you will not have eaten or drank anything for at least 8 hours. Although you will be partially IV rehydrated during surgery, you will still be dehydrated. Reduce your dehydrated state by pushing the fluids for 48 hours before surgery. Drinking electrolyte-balanced fluids (sports drinks or Pedialyte) is the most effective way to hydrate. Then vigorously rehydrate after you get home and you will minimize postoperative nausea and dizziness. Avoiding salty foods and alcohol is also key to remaining hydrated. Excess salt leads to blood pressure increase which can exacerbate swelling. Alcohol thins the blood which can increase bruising and interfere with healing.
Practice Diligent Incision Care
Properly caring for your incision sites not only speeds healing, but minimizes scarring. If you’re sent home with tape over your stitches, leave it on until it falls off naturally. After your stitches and staples have been removed, gently wash the area daily with mild soap and water and pat dry.
Keep Your Head Elevated
Keeping your head elevated above your heart reduces bruising and swelling for a quicker recovery. For the best outcome, keep your head elevated at night for at least 6 weeks following your procedure. You can do this by sleeping in a recliner or by propping your head up with pillows or a foam wedge.
Avoid Side Sleeping
Sleeping on your side after rhinoplasty is not only uncomfortable, but puts you at risk for increased swelling and bruising. It also puts you at risk for nose displacement. If you move a lot when you sleep, keep your head in place with a travel pillow, or by surrounding your head and neck with rolled up towels.
Use Cold Compresses
Icing the nose reduces swelling and bruising, and is most effective when applied within the first 72 hours. Wrap ice in a light towel and apply to the cheeks not the nose, to avoid accidentally shifting bones or cartilage.
Get Plenty of Rest
Allowing the body to rest and focus on healing is one of the best things you can do to speed your recovery. Take a break from activity as often as you can and get plenty of sleep. Avoid sports or any movement where bumping your nose could occur.
Avoid Anti-Inflammatory Medicines
While it may be tempting to take anti-inflammatories to reduce swelling (like ibuprofen or naproxen), these drugs actually increase blood flow which can lead to bleeding or slower recovery. Discuss the use of pain medications with your doctor, even over-the-counter ones.
Avoid Pain Medications Unless Prescribed by Your Surgeon
Your surgeon will send you home with pain medications to reduce discomfort during the first few days of your recovery. The dosages and medications are specifically chosen so as not to interfere with your recovery or lead to adverse reactions. Avoid taking any medications which haven’t previously been approved by your doctor. Typically, acetaminophen (Tylenol) is a safe, non-narcotic pain medication to take for lower grade pain (less than 6 our of 10).
Take Baths Instead of Showers
When you first return home, you may have bandages, splints and supports in and around your nose. During week 1 of your recovery, take baths instead of showers to keep these in place and avoid getting them wet. If you must wash your face, use a damp cloth to carefully wash around your nose to keep your bandages dry. Bandages and splints are typically removed at the end of the first week.
Keep Yourself Cool
Heat causes the tissues in your nose to swell, which can interfere with recovery and outcomes. While steaming hot showers, a relaxing sauna, or a day in the sun might feel good, it’s best to wait until you’ve healed.
Avoid Sun Exposure
Excessive sun exposure is never a good idea, but it’s especially important to avoid the sun while healing from a nose job. Your nose is not only more prone to sunburn during this time, but sun exposure can lead to swelling and may cause scars to darken.
Choose Walking for Exercise
Avoid strenuous exercise, which can lead to swelling, increased bruising, and risk of injury. This includes avoiding inversions, such as downward dog or forward bends in yoga. Most patients require 6 weeks for the bones to completely heal, so avoid contact sports completely until approved by your doctor.
Walking gently increases circulation which helps fluid and oxygen move through the body for quicker healing. Walking can also reduce stress or restlessness.
Eating a wide range of whole foods, fruits and vegetables provides your body with the essential fats, proteins and amino acids it needs to rebuild. The more hydrated you are, the more efficiently your body delivers nutrients and oxygen to each of your tissues.
Avoid Spicy Foods
Spicy and peppery foods can dilate blood vessels which increases risk of bruising and swelling. Spicy foods can also irritate the sinuses, causing the nose to run. In the early stages of healing, do everything possible to avoid blowing your nose.
Resist Blowing Your Nose
Swollen nasal tissues lead to feelings of congestion. This is common for the first few weeks or even months after nose surgery. Resist the urge to blow your nose and instead, speak with your doctor about using a saline nasal spray to moisturize your nasal passages.
If you have the urge to sneeze, try sneezing through an open mouth versus the nose. While unpleasant, it’s preferred over risking damage to your nasal passages.
Don’t Wear Glasses Without Permission
Surgeons’ recommendations regarding wearing glasses after surgery vary greatly. Many recommend against wearing glasses at all for many weeks after surgery. Dr. Constantinides takes a more pragmatic view. Since your cast protects your nose while it is on, you may where glasses while it is on. After it is off and your nose is stable, you may continue to wear glasses unless they cause pain. If you can, switch to contacts. If glasses do not create discomfort, continue wearing them.
Keep Your New Nose Safe From Injury
Every year we see patients who look amazing when their casts come off, only to get their nose hit by accident by a bobbing baby head or an enthusiastic dog. This can cause the nose to shift, the septum to buckle or induce a hematoma in the septum. In worst cases, surgery will be required to correct the new injury. In many cases, the final result will not be what it could have been. Be careful in crowded places, especially if people are drinking around you, of getting your nose hit inadvertently.
Attend All Post-Operative Appointments
Your surgeon will schedule follow-up appointments to remove stitches, splints and bandages and to ensure your recovery process is going well. Keeping these appointments lets your doctor remain aware of your healing process and make adjustments to your protocol if needed.