Most potential complications associated with filler and neuromodulator injections can be managed or prevented, and the right protocols can help in the rare cases of serious complications, Katie Beleznay, MD, of the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, said in a virtual presentation at MedscapeLive’s annual Las Vegas Dermatology Seminar, held virtually this year.

Dr. Katie Beleznay

The number of reported cases of vascular complications in patients receiving fillers has increased in recent years, said Dr. Beleznay, who also treats patients in private practice in Vancouver. However, knowing the facial anatomy and recognizing that there is no “one-size-fits-all” approach goes a long way in preventing and managing complications.

In terms of neuromodulators such as Botox, the upper face is the most common area for treatment, and potential complications include eyelid ptosis, brow ptosis, and the “Spock brow,” Dr. Beleznay noted. For example, patients won’t be able to engage elevator muscles, such as the frontalis, if too much neuromodulator is injected. But, a couple of units in the upper forehead can help make the effect look natural, soften the lines, without being too frozen.

To help avoid eyelid ptosis with neuromodulators, inject at least one centimeter above the supraorbital rim at the midpupillary line, Dr. Beleznay advised. “I will feel the muscle,” because some brows are drawn or microbladed on, she noted. Patients who develop eyelid ptosis can be treated with apraclonidine drops.

To avoid brow ptosis with neuromodulators, it is important to assess the anatomy at baseline, Dr. Beleznay said. Some patients like to be able to lift their brows, and too much Botox will prevent their doing so. In order to mitigate this, it is important to treat brow depressors to balance and provide lift, and staying above the first horizontal forehead rhytid when injecting can help reduce brow ptosis risk.

Remember when injecting the upper face there are several glabellar contraction patterns, so “be sure you are targeting the treatment for the muscle pulling pattern that you see,” she said.

Complications associated with fillers

When injecting fillers, there are rare complications, including blindness, that are worth acknowledging, said Dr. Beleznay, lead author of a study on global cases of blindness caused by fillers published in 2015, including 98 cases up to 2015, and another 48 cases in a study published in 2019.

The highest-risk areas for causing blindness with fillers are the glabella and the nose, but “anywhere you are injecting is at risk for this complication,” she commented.

Explaining the mechanism of action for blindness resulting from filler injections, she said: “When the tip of the needle gets into the vessel, if you put enough pressure on the plunger, the filler can travel retrograde in the vessel back into the ophthalmic artery system, and then travels distally and blocks blood supply to the retina,” causing vision complications.

Understanding the potential mechanism for these complications informs preventive strategies, Dr. Beleznay emphasized.

If vision complications from fillers occur, they are likely to happen immediately, she said. There could be skin involvement or stroke-like features in addition to vision complications, so it is important to screen for these conditions as well if patients complain of vision loss.

Tips for prevention

Knowing the anatomy is the first step to maximize safe placement of fillers, Dr. Beleznay said. For example, the glabella is a high-risk location and includes the supraorbital and supratrochlear arteries, which start deep and become more superficial as they travel up the forehead.

When Dr. Beleznay injects in the glabella area, “I will do a true intradermal injection using tiny microdroplets, because that feels safest to me.” A video with additional details on surface anatomy and safer planes for injecting is available online to members of the American Society of Dermatologic Surgery.

Other tips to reduce the risk of vascular complications include injecting slowly and with a minimal amount of pressure, Dr. Beleznay emphasized. Injecting in small increments, moving the needle tip between injections, and using a cannula also may help reduce risk.

Always ask and use caution if patients have had other recent surgical procedures, she added.

Vascular complications such as blindness can be devastating, but the overall risks remain low. It’s important that clinicians know their anatomy, educate patients, and have prepared treatment protocols in place in the event of serious complications, Dr. Beleznay noted.

Dr. Beleznay disclosed relationships as an investigator, speaker, and/or consultant with AbbVie, Actelion, Allergan, Almirall, Amgen, Bausch Health, Celgene, Cipher, Evolus, Galderma, Johnson & Johnson, L’Oreal, Leo, Merz, Novartis, Procter & Gamble, Prollenium, Revance, Sandoz, Sanofi, Valeant, Vichy, and Zeltiq.

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