Recently, I was asked in an interview to comment on a small, but growing trend in New York City where women wish to receive botulinum toxin (such as Botox) injections throughout the scalp to reduce sweating thereby keeping their hair (and blowout) fresh. While the results can last for months, those who try this trend may be subject over 100 injections to get the desired results. Although I am sure this treatment will help reduce scalp sweat, the cost and discomfort associated with the treatment will most likely make the injections appealing to only a small number of women. But the question from the editor got me thinking about the wide variety of uses for botulinum toxin in medicine. In fact, the medical uses for botulinum toxin outnumber the cosmetic uses and for some people, the results from treatment can be life changing. Here are a few notable indications for botulinum toxin because the effects are so helpful for people struggling with these common conditions.
- Excessive sweating: botulinum toxin is effective to reduce hyperhidrosis (excessive sweating) on the hands and in the armpits. By temporarily blocking the production of sweat, patients can get relief from excessive sweating for many months. For people with hands that literally drip with sweat, botulinum toxin helps them to be less self-conscious about so many actions of daily living (e.g. a simple handshake, writing, using a cell phone) that those of us without hyperhidrosis take for granted.
- Headaches: not only has botulinum toxin been shown to be an effective treatment for migraine headaches, it can also be helpful for muscle tension headaches. A series of nearly painless injections will often give relief within just a few days and last for months.
- Eyelid twitching: Blepharospasm is characterized by uncontrolled, involuntary movements of the eyelid muscles that result in twitching, excessive blinking and in some severe cases, inability to open the eye. Botulinum toxin use for blepharospasm was first FDA-approved in 1989 and is still a very important treatment for an eyelid twitch today. For people with severe blepharospasm, daily activities such as driving can be restricted (imagine uncontrolled blinking that essentially keeps the eye in a closed position). For these patients, botulinum toxin can be used to restore a more functional lifestyle.
Of course, botulinum toxin can also help with dynamic wrinkles on the face with the regular use. Although aging is not a treatable or preventable condition, it is important not to downplay the power of helping people look as good as they feel. I’ve found that for many of my patients, feeling confident when looking in the mirror translates into more confidence moving from one activity to the next throughout the day, and that’s powerful too.