Following breast cancer treatment, having breast augmentation surgery — which enhances breast size and shape using implants — can be a confidence booster. However, it may also lead to unusual sensations, like the feeling of an air bubble, especially if you’re among the 40 percent of people who choose this reconstruction surgery after mastectomy.
MyBCTeam members who have undergone reconstruction have reported the peculiar feeling of an air bubble in their breast implant or surrounding chest area. What does this sensation mean, and when is it a cause for concern?
The sensation of air bubbles or an air pocket in a breast implant can be concerning. “I’ve been getting this feeling off and on for a few months now where it sort of feels like an air bubble in my chest, not painful, just weird, and it radiates out and up and makes me a little lightheaded for a few seconds,” shared one member.
Depending on when you experience the air bubble sensation during the reconstruction and recovery process, it may point to different causes.
The breast reconstruction process may begin with the placement of a tissue expander. This is an empty breast implant that your surgeon gradually fills with fluid or air over a series of weeks to stretch out the skin and breast tissue before placing the permanent implant. This stretching can cause pressure on the surrounding tissues and cause different sensations depending on the amount of stretching.
When the tissue expander is empty, its shape may feel odd to you. A MyBCTeam member explained a wrinkling sensation in their empty expander: “My expander had what felt like a fold in it. It’s gone now since I’ve been able to have them filled up once.”
Filling the expanders is an unusual sensation, as described by one MyBCTeam member: “I remember at my last fill, hearing ‘pop, pop, pop.’ It was the fluid filling in.”
The air bubble sensation may be related to the filling process. One MyBCTeam member shared, “I have tissue expanders, and I think I have an air bubble in it.”
Another member advised others who are going through the implant-filling process, “If you haven’t completed your fills, there’s going to be some weird sounds and sensations.”
These sensations are generally normal and should gradually improve after the permanent implant has been put into place.
These sensations also may be caused by your body’s healing process after surgery. The nerves in your breast may be affected during the operation, making you more sensitive to different, strange feelings. Scar tissue can contribute to these sensations.
The surgical incisions made during the procedure may introduce air into the implant pocket, which can create a sensation similar to air bubbles. This temporary sensation tends to go away as your body adjusts and the healing progresses.
Some members have shared the feeling — and even appearance — of an air bubble after receiving their new saline or silicone gel implants. “I’ve developed what feels like a little air bubble in my reconstructed breast with a red line in the middle,” one member wrote. ”It looks like a circular air pocket with an indented red line through it. No pain, just odd. My surgery was three or four months ago.”
Air bubbles within a saline breast implant can cause strange sensations and even noises, such as sloshing. Normally, small bubbles within the implant will disappear on their own within 30 days, if not sooner.
It’s important to tell the difference between normal sensations and those that may indicate a problem. Most people who have undergone reconstruction report feeling mild discomfort, tightness, or pressure in their breasts during the initial stages of the healing process. Other sensations after surgery commonly include itchiness, wetness, warmth, numbness, and tenderness due to the nerves that were cut during your surgeries. These feelings usually go away with time, but if they continue or get worse, talk to your plastic surgeon.
Members of MyBCTeam have suggested different tactics to reduce this odd feeling. One member said, “To get rid of the feeling of an air bubble in my chest, I take in a deep and long breath until the pain ends or the bubble pops.”
Seek medical attention if you experience any of the following symptoms after receiving breast implants:
While some degree of breast pain is expected after your augmentation procedure, severe or prolonged pain may be a sign of an underlying issue, such as infection or implant-related complications. Ignore long-lasting or severe breast pain could delay important treatment and affect your overall well-being.
If you notice significant swelling or changes in color in one or both breasts, it could indicate an infection or allergic reaction that requires medical evaluation. It could also mean that fluid from the healing process is collecting underneath your skin creating a swelling called a seroma. Usually, your body will reabsorb this fluid on its own. If it doesn’t, your doctor or nurse can remove it with a small syringe.
Some changes in the shape or appearance of your breasts over time are normal. But if you notice major changes such as asymmetry or distortion (not the same on both sides or not in a normal shape), consult with your surgeon. Rupture of a breast tissue expander or implant may result from surgical complications, pressure or trauma to the breast, or the age of the implant, and it usually leads to immediate and severe distortion of the breast. If you believe you have an implant rupture or leak, go to your surgeon as soon as possible.
As mentioned, the sensation of air bubbles is common, but if you experience new or unusual sensations that persist or intensify over time, consult with your surgeon for a thorough evaluation.
After breast implants, some people may also experience a subset of symptoms known as breast implant illness. These symptoms seem to be triggered by the immune system, however, researchers are still learning more. Symptoms may include signs of inflammation or infection (such as fever, pain, weakness, and skin changes) or neurologic changes (such as anxiety/depression, memory loss, and trouble concentrating). If you’re having any new or worrisome symptoms, it could be a dangerous complication and should be checked by your medical team.
Every person’s experience with breast implantation is unique, and there’s a wide variety of potential sensations you can experience after this major surgical procedure. Most are normal and part of the process of healing and getting used to the implants. As the implants heal, the leftover air typically goes away on its own. Your breast cancer care team should be able to address any symptoms or side effects as you recover from breast implant surgery. By communicating openly with your medical team, you can receive the best possible care and support throughout your healing process after breast implant surgery.
MyBCTeam is the social network for people with breast cancer and their loved ones. More than 64,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their experiences with others who understand life with breast cancer.
Have you felt the sensation of an air pocket in your breast during the reconstruction process? Did this sensation resolve on its own? Share your experience in the comments below or on your Activities page.