Breast Implant Questions: What Happens If I Am Allergic To My Implants?
Frequently I am asked about the possibility of having an allergic reaction to breast implants after breast augmentation surgery. The majority of individuals are primarily worried about the silicone shell used in silicone or saline implants or the silicone gel contained within a silicone implant. In order to answer that question fully, you should understand what defines a true allergy. An allergy is your body's response to a foreign substance that it believes is dangerous. For example, if a person is allergic to peanuts, their body thinks that something contained within the peanut could cause them bodily harm and their body responds to prevent that harm. When that person comes in contact with peanuts, their body identifies it as foreign and then proceeds to use its defenses to actually attack that substance and destroy it. As a result, side effects like itching and swelling may occur. Occasionally the response and side effects are so overwhelming that they result in anaphylaxis. For example, their peanut allergy may result in so much swelling that they are no longer able to breathe. This is a true allergic response.
However, there are certain types of materials that are chemically inert, meaning that our bodies do not have the ability to identify the material well enough in order to fight against it. Many medical devices are made of such materials and include everything from artificial knees to pacemakers to breast implants. Silicone, whether in the gel or polymer shell form, is one of those substances. As a result, when the body comes in contact with a substance that it knows is foreign but it is unable to attack it, it does the next best thing. It walls it off from the rest of the body by creating a layer of scar tissue around the object. In other words, if your body cannot remove the foreign material from the body, it simply protects itself from it. This is the reason behind breast augmentation patients developing capsular contracture, which is scar tissue that forms around the breast implant. Though the degree of scar tissue build up may vary, all implants develop a scar tissue capsule. Unfortunately some individual's bodies are more exuberant in their response resulting in a very thickened and hard scar tissue capsule. These patients may require revision of their breast augmentation to release the scar tissue.
Nonetheless, in response to the question, our bodies do not have the ability to develop a true allergy to breast implants. Though long term complication such as capsular contracture do occur in a small percentage of patients, the majority of patients undergo breast augmentation without difficulty and remain very happy with the result.