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Botox: It’s Not Just for Wrinkles

By Sarah Densmore

Botox is cherished among the middle aged for its wrinkle-erasing capabilities, but doctors know this substance is much more than a cosmeceutical. Botox treats several medical conditions, including muscle spasms, eye misalignment, and excessive sweating.

How Botox works

Botox blocks the nerve signals that make muscles contract. When people receive injections in their furrowed foreheads they’re able to watch those wrinkles disappear because Botox paralyzes the underlying muscles, causing the skin to smooth out.

The ability to interrupt the muscle-contraction sequence is what makes Botox an effective treatment for certain muscle disorders.

Botox for misaligned eyes

Approximately 4 in every 100 adults have eyes that point in different directions. People with this condition, which is medically termed strabismus, suffer all sorts of visual difficulties, including blurred eyesight, double vision, and loss of depth perception.

Adult strabismus can be caused by a disease or even cataract or retinal surgery. When it’s caused by an overactive eye muscle, Botox can provide relief by temporarily interrupting the nerve signal. In some cases, the injections can permanently change eye alignment.

Botox for muscle spasms

Chronic, involuntary muscle spasms are both debilitating and painful. More than 300,000 North Americans battle these contractions, which doctors call dystonia. Botox has given temporary relief to dystonia sufferers for two decades.

Chronic muscle contractions can occur in just one part of the body or in multiple muscle groups. Because Botox is injected only in the spastic muscle, it can be very effective in relieving dystonia patients’ localized symptoms. The challenge for a treating physician is being able to correctly identify the deeper muscle contractions he may not be able to locate by touch (such as those in the neck or vocal cords). An electromyograph, a machine that records muscle movement, can aid the process.

In April 2009, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration ordered the manufacturers of Botox to amend their product communications to include a warning that Botox can spread to areas of the body outside the injection site. Although rare, this can cause sudden muscle weakness, loss of bladder control, blurred vision, and trouble talking, breathing, and swallowing.

Botox for excessive sweating

Nearly 3 percent of the world’s population sweats so much it interferes with their daily lives. Excessive sweating, also known as hyperhidrosis, most often occurs in a person’s armpits, feet, hands, or face.

As with strabismus and dystonia, Botox for hyperhidrosis works by interrupting a nervous system process. In this case, however, the drug blocks a chemical that activates sweat glands.

Sweaters in one clinical trial enjoyed a 50 percent reduction in perspiration after receiving Botox injections.

Botox is not a cure. Its effects last a few weeks to several months, depending on the condition being treated. Sufferers will need to undergo additional treatments when the effects of Botox wear off if they want to keep their symptoms in check.

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