What is Balloon Expansion Therapy?
Balloon Expansion Therapy, also known as “tissue expansion”, is a surgical technique that is over three decades old, and puts the skin’s elastic properties to medical use. This procedure forms new skin by inserting a special inflatable balloon under the scalp, which can then be transplanted onto other areas of the body as needed. It is useful for all age ranges, from the infantile to the elderly, and treats a wide variety of conditions.
How does Balloon Expansion Work?
To perform this procedure, the following steps occur:
- First, a medical balloon made of silicone called an expander is placed under the skin. The expander usually is placed in an area that has similar characteristics to the area in need of treatment. In hair restoration this is usually at the posterior scalp. This is so that the restorative skin will share the same general characteristics as the previous skin.
- Next, the expander is filled with a saline solution. This causes the tissue to stretch and expand. By placing the skin under a continuous amount of stress for a long period of time, the tissue stretches and expands.
- The balloon is expanded at a very slow rate, and can remain under the skin for a number of weeks or even months.
- A second surgery removes the expander from beneath the skin. The new tissue is repositioned over the area in need of repair.
What are some of the Medical Applications for Balloon Expansion?
This technique is used for breast restorations and burn victims. When the scalp has developed substantial scar tissue and cannot regrow hair, it is called cicatricial alopecia. However, this surgery can be used on many other forms of hair loss as well.
Balloon Expansion and Hair Restoration
When the expander is placed under the scalp, the newly stretched skin also has the same hair properties as before. In other words, if an area with hair is expanded, the new tissue will also have hair. Therefore, if the expander is placed on an area of the back of the head that normally retains hair throughout life (known as the occipital scalp), then the new tissue will also contain the same types of healthy follicles. This hair-bearing tissue can then be transplanted onto an area of the scalp experiencing hair loss so that new hairs may grow.
Advantages of Balloon Expansion
There are some distinct advantages of using tissue expansion over skin grafts such as:
- Although the procedure requires multiple surgeries, the actual stretched skin itself is never cut away from the body. This leaves the blood flow and nerve system intact, increasing the chances of survivability while minimizing scars.
- The new skin closely resembles the surrounding native skin.
Disadvantages of Balloon Expansion
Some of the inconveniences may include:
- New skin grows slowly, so the process may take months.
- The overall technique requires multiple procedures to insert, inflate, and remove the silicone balloon.
- Some patients report a feeling of discomfort around the site of expansion.
- The cosmetic appearance of the expander balloon may be unfavorable to the patient.