While many people consider botulinum toxin type A (understood by the brand names Botox and Dysport) as a treatment for wrinkles, it’s actually been used for many years to treat specific medical conditions. The truth is, its use as a cosmetic treatment was only realised when individuals using it to treat facial muscle spasms noticed an improvement in their facial wrinkles.
What is Botox?
Botox is one brand of a purified form of botulinum toxin type A, a chemical toxin that is produced by Clostridium botulinum bacteria. Although this is the same toxin that causes botulism — a sort of illness that can lead to life-threatening muscle paralysis — Botox is safe to use as an injectable medicine because it is used in such small quantities and injected directly into specific sites. Another brand of botulinum toxin type A, called Dysport, is also accessible.
How does Botox treatment work?
Botulinum toxin type A (Botox, Dysport) blocks the release of a neurotransmitter (a chemical messenger) known as acetylcholine from nerve cells. Acetylcholine normally transmits nerve impulses to muscle cells, causing them to contract. Without acetylcholine, the affected nerve is unable to send a signal to the muscle it provides, resulting in a diminished or paralysed muscle. The effect of Botox injections is limited to the area being treated, and because the nerve fibres generally regenerate after a couple of months, the effect is just temporary.
What are Botox injections used for?
Botox injections are used to treat medical conditions such as:
- blepharospasm (twitching or spasm of the eyelid);
- cervical dystonia, or spasmodic torticollis (a sort of muscle spasm in the neck);
- facial or other localised muscle spasms;
- muscle spasticity due to cerebral palsy;
- strabismus (a condition where the eyes aren’t correctly aligned); and
- Particular instances of incontinence due to overactive bladder
Botox injections can be directed into the skin to block the action of the nerves that control your sweat glands. It can be used in this way to treat excessive localised sweating (hyperhidrosis), especially severe underarm sweating.
Botox can also be used to assist in preventing migraine headaches in certain people who have chronic migraine.
The Therapeutic Goods Administration (the Australian drug regulatory agency) first approved Botox injections for medical use in 1999. It was approved for cosmetic use (specifically, the treatment of vertical frown lines) in 2002.
Botox injections are now approved for the cosmetic treatment of vertical frown lines (also called glabellar lines — lines between the eyebrows that are due to the muscles that contract when you frown, squint or concentrate), horizontal forehead lines, and lines radiating from the corners of the eyes (crow’s feet). Another brand of botulinum toxin type A, called Dysport, has been approved for the treatment of moderate to intense vertical frown lines between the eyebrows.
How are Botox injections used to treat wrinkles?
Botox injections may be used to weaken or paralyse some of the facial muscles that pull on your skin and cause wrinkles, enabling the skin to flatten out. About 2 to 7 days after the shots, the lines and wrinkles that are usually caused by specific facial expressions start to evaporate. Because Botox therapy goals specific, individual muscles, the skill to form most facial expressions should not be affected.
How long does the effect last?
The progress in the look of your wrinkles usually lasts for 3 to 6 months, and repeated shots are needed to keep the effect. With continued use, the effects may begin to last longer. A small number of people develop neutralising antibodies to Botox injections after repeated therapy, which results in the treatment no longer being powerful.
Are Botox shots safe?
Botox injections are relatively safe when administered by a medical professional who is trained in its use. As with all treatments, there are a number of side effects related to its use, but most of them are moderate and temporary. Pain, tenderness and bruising may be associated with the shot, and some people have reported a slight headache after treatment. Nausea and a flu-like syndrome are also infrequently reported.
There’s only a little risk of significant side effects from Botox treatment, including a drooping eyelid (which generally only lasts a few days, but can survive longer). Botox injections should not be used in women who are pregnant or breast feeding. It’s very important to remember that that all medical procedures carry risks in addition to advantages, and you need to discuss these with your doctor.
Where can I get Botox treatment?
Botox therapy is only available on prescription from a physician, and should always be given by a trained medical professional who’s familiar with the correct technique. Your doctor will be able to let you understand whether Botox injections are appropriate for you.
Cosmetic procedures can be performed by various health professionals, including plastic surgeons, cosmetic surgeons and physicians, dermatologists and nurses. It is possible to go straight to some of these professionals for Botox treatment, but it really is preferable to have a referral from your GP.