Plastic surgery articles almost always carefully point out that the “plastic” in plastic surgery comes from the Greek word plastikos which means, “to mold or take form.”
Nonetheless, many blog authors use the word plastic in the sense of artificial.
But there is one place in reconstructive plastic surgery (as opposed to cosmetic plastic surgery) where actual plastic is used – in nose surgery to restore healthy breathing.
Your nose is divided into two breathing channels we know as the nostrils. The septum, a thin wall of cartilage and bone separating the nostrils, is often found to be warped, twisted or otherwise bent like in the before and after picture above.
Nose surgeons then refer to it as a deviated septum and dislike it intensely because it interferes with healthy breathing by limiting the air you breathe through at least one nostril.
And because the nose is a three-dimensional structure, the septum also acts to support the nose.
Some people are just born with a deviated septum while blows to the nose in accidents and sports create many more.
So where does the real plastic part come in?
When doctors repair a deviated septum in nose surgery, they often use stitches to restore the septum to the midline of the nose. To hold everything in place during healing, nose surgeons use plastic splints, a type of rigid implant made of soft silicone plastic. But the splints don’t stay in the nose forever; they are usually removed in one to three weeks.
Yet another condition known as nasal valve collapse also uses real plastic. In some cases, too much of the septum has been previously used as a building material during previous cosmetic nose surgery.
(Read more about deviated septum revision and nasal valve collapse.)
In other cases, the nose has been hit especially hard and collapses into a so-called “boxer’s nose” or a “pug nose.”
In both cases, breathing troubles are usually present. Besides, it looks bad.
Some surgeons take cartilage from patents’ ears or from between the ribs to use as supports in the nose. But that creates more surgical wounds.
Other nose surgeons now use polyethylene plastic inserts to repair a nasal valve collapse. The inserts are measured for each patient’s nose and then stitched to the septum for extra support.
In a 36-month Veteran’s Hospital study of 18 patients who had noses repaired using the technique, 15 had excellent results according to a recent article in The Archives of Facial Plastic Surgery. In one patient, the plastic graft poked through the nose skin and two were removed.
The remainder said their breathing was significantly better.
(Read the nose surgery report.)