Any form of surgery comes with the risk of infection, but how common is hair transplant infection? What are the key signs and symptoms, and what can we do to prevent it?
An infection occurs when pathogens enter the body and begin to multiply. Pathogens are harmful microorganisms, such as bacteria or viruses. Cuts or wounds create openings which allow these pathogens to enter the body, which is why surgery can lead to infection.
A hair transplant becomes infected when pathogens enter the body through the incisions in the scalp that were made during the surgery. The infection will either develop in the donor site (the area of the scalp from which the surgeon removed hair follicles for transplantation) or the treatment site (the area in which the surgeon implanted the hair follicles).
What Causes A Hair Transplant to Become Infected?
There are three main causes of hair transplant infection:
Poor Hygiene and an Unsanitary Surgical Environment
It is essential that you arrange to have your hair transplant at a clinic with excellent hygiene standards. If your surgeon uses unsanitized surgical tools during the procedure or administers the transplant in an unhygienic environment, the patient is likely to develop an infection. Additionally, it is important that the patient follows good hygiene practices themselves and avoids touching their wounds as they heal.
Excessive Scabbing and Crusting
After a hair transplant, scabs and crusts appear around the treated areas of the scalp. This is perfectly normal and to be expected, and they should disappear 4 to 10 days after they have formed.
However, excessive scab formation will lead to excessive itchiness, which could prompt a patient to scratch their scalp. This could transfer pathogens from the patient’s fingers to the incisions in the treated areas of the head, causing infection.
A Weakened Immune System
Your immune system is responsible for fighting the pathogens which invade the body. When your immune system is weakened, it is difficult for the body to fight infection. Although a weakened immune system does not cause infection, therefore, it is responsible for prolonging the infection or failing to fight it.
Patients who suffer from medical conditions which weaken the immune system (such as high blood pressure, HIV, or diabetes) are more likely to suffer from a hair transplant infection. Similarly, lifestyle habits that weaken the immune system (such as smoking) put a patient at greater risk.
How Do I Know If My Hair Transplant Is Infected?
I’m In the days and weeks following a hair transplant procedure, patients should look out for the following signs and symptoms of infection:
Abscesses, Foul Odour, and the Discharge of Pus
An abscess is a lump under the surface of the skin which is filled with pus. If you find these on or around the treated areas of your scalp after a hair transplant procedure, then you have an infection. The transplant is also infected if you notice the oozing of (potentially foul-smelling) pus around the scalp. In either case, you should consult your surgeon as soon as possible.
Excessive Redness or Swelling
Patients are expected to experience some redness and swelling after a hair transplant, so these symptoms are not a cause for concern if they appear in isolation. However, if you experience redness or swelling alongside the other symptoms listed here, or if these symptoms persist for longer than a week, it could be a sign of infection.
As with redness and swelling, itchiness is very common after a hair transplant and is not necessarily a sign of infection. However, excessive or severe itchiness on and around the scalp, or itchiness that persists for longer than a week, could indicate that the transplant is infected.
Pain or Headaches
It is normal to experience some discomfort around the scalp in the days that follow a hair transplant (though this should not persist for longer than 3 to 4 days). However, patients should not experience severe pain or headaches, and these symptoms could be a sign of infection.
Warmth or a Burning Sensation
Patients typically experience warmth or a mild burning sensation in the treated areas of the scalp for 3 to 4 days after a hair transplant. If these symptoms persist beyond this period, it could be a sign of infection and you should consult your surgeon.
Prolonged or Severe Bleeding
A hair transplant is an operation, and it is normal for some bleeding to occur during the treatment. However, it is not common for severe or prolonged bleeding to occur in the days which follow the procedure. This can happen when a patient is taking blood-thinning medication, which is why patients are advised not to take these medicines before or after a hair transplant. Alternatively, bleeding can be a sign of a hair transplant infection.
Patients who experience bleeding after a hair transplant should not apply pressure to the scalp to stop the blood, as this could damage the transplanted hair grafts. Instead, arrange to see your surgeon as soon as possible.
A High Fever
Patients who suffer from a fever in the days or weeks following a hair transplant should consult their surgeon immediately.
Any surgical procedure will cause tiredness, and patients will need to rest during the recovery period which follows the operation. However, in some cases, lethargy can be a sign of infection. If you experience excessive tiredness alongside some of the other symptoms listed here, it is best to discuss this with your surgeon.
Nausea and Vomiting
Nausea or vomiting (as well as dizziness or disorientation) can be a product of the anesthetic that is used during a hair transplant procedure. In these cases, patients are advised to have an adult companion remain with them for 24 hours. In some cases, nausea can indicate infection, and sufferers of this symptom should contact their surgeon as soon as possible.
Swollen Lymph Glands
Lymph glands (which are sometimes referred to as lymph nodes) are responsible for fighting infection. These glands can be found on each side of the neck, beneath the chin, in the armpits and around the groin area. When you suffer from an infection, the lymph glands swell, and they can feel painful or tender.
If you have swollen lymph glands (particularly on the neck) in the days and weeks that follow a hair transplant procedure, it is possible that the transplant is infected (especially if you notice the swollen glands in combination with other signs of infection).
How Likely is it that my Hair Transplant Will Become Infected?
The risk of infection after a hair transplant is very low. According to the National Institutes of Health, fewer than 1% of patients experience infection after a hair transplant. However, it is impossible for any surgery to eliminate the risk of post-surgical infection completely.
FUT hair transplants carry a slightly greater risk of infection than FUE hair transplants. FUT works by removing a strip of tissue from the back of the head and extracting hair follicles from it, which are then transplanted into the balding areas of the scalp. By contrast, FUE removes hair follicles from the donor site one by one and transfers them individually into the balding areas of the scalp. As a result, FUT creates a larger wound in the scalp than FUE, which means that it is easier for pathogens to enter the body.
Nevertheless, if a hair transplant is administered at a licensed clinic, and the patient follows good hygiene practices, it is very rare for the infection to occur after either an FUE or a FUT hair transplant. Ultimately, the best way to reduce the chances of infection is to follow adequate preventative measures, such as those listed below.
How Can I Prevent Infection?
Have your Hair Transplant at a Licensed Clinic
The best way to minimize the chances of infection after a hair transplant is to have your transplant performed by an experienced surgeon at a licensed and reputable clinic. These clinics will follow stringent hygiene rules and provide the best results. Good clinics will also offer quality aftercare and arrange follow-up visits, during which your surgeon will assess your scalp and check for signs of infection. You can examine the quality of a clinic by taking a look at its customer reviews.
Follow the Pre- and Post-Surgical Care Instructions
Your surgeon will provide you with instructions on what to do in the weeks preceding and following your hair transplant. Abiding by all of these instructions will help to minimize the risk of infection.
Avoid Scratching Your Scalp or Picking At Your Scabs
Your scalp will be itchy in the days that follow a hair transplant, and it may be tempting to scratch it. However, it is vitally important that patients avoid touching, rubbing, or scratching the scalp. Additionally, patients should avoid washing or brushing their hair for 24 hours following the surgery. Scratching the head or picking at scabs could both damage your new hair (ruining the results of the procedure) and lead to infection, by transferring pathogens to the cuts on your scalp.
Avoid Vigorous Exercise
Exercising after a hair transplant will create sweat on the scalp. This will increase itchiness, making it more tempting to scratch your head, which can cause infection. Consequently, it is important to avoid strenuous or high-impact exercise until your surgeon advises you otherwise.
It is also important that patients avoid swimming in either fresh or chlorinated water for approximately 3 to 4 months after a hair transplant. This is because the germs in the water could come into contact with the incisions on your scalp, allowing pathogens to penetrate the body, which could cause infection.
Additionally, swimming after a hair surgery could dislocate the transplanted hair follicles before they have had time to take root, disrupting the results of the procedure.
Use a Saline Spray Solution
Your surgeon may recommend that you apply a saline spray solution to your scalp in the days following a hair transplant. Twice a day, patients should spray the solution onto the scalp and massage it into the skin for 30 minutes. This will remove dirt from the scalp whilst also preventing bacterial growth, which minimizes the risk of infection.
Avoid Alcohol, Smoking, and Tobacco Products During Recovery
Alcoholic beverages, smoking, and tobacco products slow down the rate at which your body can heal wounds. Therefore, if you drink, smoke, or use tobacco products in the days that follow a hair transplant, it will take longer for your body to heal the cuts on your scalp. As a result, the wounds will remain open for longer, which gives pathogens more opportunity to penetrate the body and cause infection.
Attend the Follow-Up Visits Arranged By Your Surgeon
Your surgeon should arrange a series of follow-up visits after your transplant, in which they will examine your scalp. During these visits, your surgeon will check for signs of infection.
What Should I Do if I Suffer from an Infection?
Ignoring an infection will cause it to worsen, leading to further complications.
Therefore, if you notice any of the signs or symptoms of a hair transplant infection that we have listed above, then you must consult your surgeon as soon as possible. They will assess the infection and direct you toward the best treatment for it.
Treatments for Hair Transplant Infections
If you develop an infection, your surgeon may recommend that you take oral or topical antibiotics, or use an antibacterial shampoo. If the infection has created abscesses on your scalp, then your surgeon may drain these to promote healing.
FUE Hair Transplants at Aventus Clinic
At Aventus Clinic, we offer bespoke, high-quality FUE hair transplant treatments performed by expert surgeons.
We offer FUE hair transplants because they are the most advanced and sophisticated type of transplant available, and have a success rate of over 95%. We have also found that clients generally prefer FUE to FUT transplants on account of the fact that they are more effective, less invasive, less painful, and produce a more natural-looking result.
To hear what our clients think, take a look at our customer reviews. If you are unsure whether you are a suitable candidate for our FUE hair transplants, you can arrange a consultation online or over the phone, and one of our friendly specialists will offer advice on the best treatment for you.