Right, now that the PSA is done, onto the details.
Lips swollen and oozing pus. Skin mottled and discoloured. Tissue dying.
We’ve all seen the pictures. Those poor women who have put their faith in someone to make them look their best, and they end up scared, in pain, swollen and scarred.
There are far too many cases of filler issues that haven’t been identified and treated quickly enough, and, sadly, this is often because these treatments have been administered by someone who is not appropriately trained or qualified, not necessarily to carry out the treatment, but to spot when something has gone wrong and most importantly, putting it right.
So, how do you know if your fillers are fine and that what you’re experiencing is normal? And at what point should you seek help if you don’t think things are quite right?
What is ‘normal’ when it comes to dermal fillers?
When it comes to fillers, what’s normal for one is not necessarily normal for another.
Some people have no bruising, barely any swelling and they get up off the treatment bed with lovely, plump, natural-looking lips. This is their normal - lucky them!
Me, however, I swell and bruise. And for about 3 days post-lip filler, I look like I’ve overdone that cup-suction-lip trick, and that’s with only 0.5ml injected VERY carefully.
But, from a medical perspective, normal often involves:
- Slight bleeding at injection sites
This will last anything up to 5 days. Although, you should find that the symptoms ease each day following the treatment.
How do we know when things aren’t right following fillers?
Luckily, the majority of dermal filler treatments are carried out with hyaluronic acid-based products. Hyaluronic acid is a substance already produced by the body. This means it is largely well-tolerated by the vast majority of us. That’s not to say that things don’t occasionally go awry though.
There are four main types of complications that can happen following fillers. Let’s take a look at each...
Nodules and blebs
Nodules and blebs are lumps and bumps created due to incorrectly placed filler. This is usually filler that is placed too superficially (too close to the surface of the skin). They generally look like white or skin coloured lumps and are painless and harmless, but can sometimes look unsightly.
To treat these, a practitioner will either massage and warm them with a compress, then the nodule is punctured and the goo is released. Alternatively, the filler is dissolved with hyaluronidase, which is a prescription-only medicine.
Very rarely, people are allergic to the filler. Though, more commonly, they are allergic to the anaesthetic included in the filler. These reactions can range from very mild to severe.
Symptoms of allergic reaction include:
- Prolonged swelling
- Prolonged redness
- Prolonged pain
- Anaphylaxis (very rare)
What should you do if you suffer from any of these filler reactions?
If you think you may be experiencing an allergic reaction to your filler or think your fillers have gone wrong, see a medically qualified practitioner immediately, and they will decide upon the correct treatment. This may include dissolving the filler with hyaluronidase and treating you with antihistamines. In the event of anaphylaxis, you may need adrenaline. This is one of the reasons it is CRUCIAL that you only have filler treatments carried out by medically trained, prescribing professionals, who will be able to look after you in the rare event of an allergic reaction.
Any time the skin barrier is compromised, there is a risk of infection. Obviously, this risk is minimised by having treatments in a clinical environment, with a practitioner who adheres to aseptic techniques, using sterile equipment and FDA or CE-approved products.
Confusingly, the symptoms of infection are similar to those symptoms you would normally expect following filler injections. The difference is, they persist and are exacerbated. They include:
- Prolonged inflammation
- Prolonged redness
- Prolonged pain
- Skin shedding
What should you do if you experience infection after fillers?
If you think you may have an infection as a result of a filler treatment, you should see your practitioner immediately, as they will decide what course of action is right for you. This might include lancing the area to remove the infected fluid, dissolving the filler with hyaluronidase, and treating you with antibiotics. Again, if you have selected a medically trained, prescribing professional, they will be able to look after you appropriately.
Alongside severe allergic reactions, vascular occlusions are a very rare, but very serious risk.
Vascular occlusions are where blood vessels are blocked either directly - i.e. when filler is injected directly into an artery or vein - or due to a compression blockage - i.e. when filler is injected close to a vessel and blocks it indirectly.
Symptoms of occlusions include:
- Severe pain
- Blanching of the skin and/or white spots
- Mottled skin
- Blue/black discolouration
- Poor capillary refill (when healthy skin is pressed, it should ‘pink up’ as soon as the pressure is removed. If the skin remains pale, it indicates the blood supply is impaired)
- Skin shedding
The speed at which the symptoms arise depends on whether an artery or vein has been blocked. When arteries are blocked, the onset of symptoms is rapid and the practitioner needs to act quickly and decisively. When veins are blocked, the onset of symptoms usually begins once you’ve returned home after your treatment.
What should you do if you experience an occlusion after fillers?
I can’t stress enough how important it is that you seek help IMMEDIATELY if you think you have an occlusion. NOW.
If the occlusion is spotted whilst you are in the clinic, your practitioner will take immediate action. They’ll halt the treatment, use a warm compress and massage the area, and will likely use hyaluronidase to dissolve the filler and administer aspirin or a similar anticoagulant.
If the symptoms of occlusion appear once you have left the clinic, you need to ensure you see your practitioner ASAP. If this is not possible, you need to go to the nearest A&E to get seen by a doctor or nurse. You’ll need to explain the treatment you have had fully so that they can fix the issue as quickly as possible.
I know this all sounds scary! But it’s important to understand that in the wrong hands, fillers really can be frightening. However, if you choose the right kind of practitioner (those who are medically qualified, prescribing practitioners with significant experience injecting fillers) the risk of complications is actually extremely low.
Take a read of our Lip Filler Treatment Guide to get clued up.
And if you're thinking about booking a consultation or lip filler treatment, check out the hundreds of amazing medically qualified practitioners we have on Glowday.