Botox® is the brand name for onabotulinumtoxinA. This is a poison created by a type of bacteria known as Clostridium botulinum, which causes the potentially fatal food poisoning known as botulism. Botox® is a beauty product produced and marketed since 2002 by pharmaceutical company Allergan. Botox® treatments in injection form are used to temporarily reduce deep-set wrinkles between the eyebrows by paralyzing the muscles. While primarily thought of as a cosmetic treatment, Botox® has also shown success in treating migraines; hyperhidrosis, or excessive sweat; blepharospasm, or involuntary blinking; and achalasia, or failure of the lower esophageal sphincter to relax.
Cosmetic Botox® treatments, which are only approved for people between the ages of 18 and 65, involve having a doctor or other licensed professional inject the toxin directly into the affected area. The toxin then paralyzes the muscles in the area, preventing the facial movements that cause the wrinkles. A treatment’s effectiveness usually lasts from three to six months. Injections are rather expensive, often require more than one per treatment, and must be repeated as the treatment begins to wear off if continued results are to be seen.
Botox® treatments also have been shown effective in treating hyperhidrosis, which is a condition characterized by excess sweating. Injections of Botox® in the right areas can paralyze the nerves that signal the body to start sweating. This particular treatment can last from six months to a year, though the cost is often prohibitive and the injections are typically not covered by insurance.
Achalasia is an esophageal condition in which nerves of the esophagus muscle and the sphincter, or valve, separating the esophagus from the stomach fail to do their job. The result is that it can be hard to get food and water through the esophagus to the stomach. Botox® injected into the esophageal sphincter can weaken the valve and allow food and beverages into the stomach. It is, again, a treatment that must be repeated regularly to see continued results, and it is possible that the injections will negatively affect the outcome of any subsequent surgery to treat the condition.
Botox®’s function as a cosmetic treatment for wrinkles was first noted by doctors using it to treat blepharospasm, an involuntary blinking, and other conditions affecting the muscles of the eye. In severe cases of blepharospasm, the patient may blink so much that, for all intents and purposes, he is blind. Botox® injections target the muscles causing the spasms that lead to the blinking.
Migraines also have shown improvement with Botox® treatments. Injecting the toxin into muscles of the upper head — the forehead and brow area, the eyes, and the sides and back of the head — has been shown to relieve migraine pain for as much as six months. While its medical use for blepharospasm led doctors to discover the cosmetic uses of Botox® it was, at least in part, the cosmetic use that led doctors to realize its medical benefit to migraines.