What is botulinum toxin?
Botulinum toxin is a protein that helps stop muscle spasms when it is injected directly into the muscle. Muscle spasms are caused by chemical messages sent to the muscles from nerves. These messages tell the muscles to contract (to tighten up). Botulinum toxin blocks these messages.
Path to improved health
Your doctor may consider botulinum toxin injections to treat certain muscle spasms. These could include:
- Twitching on your face or eyelids.
- Eye movement disorders, such as a lazy eye (also called strabismus).
- Cervical dystonia. This is when a muscle spasm causes the head and neck to twist or turn in an uncomfortable position.
Your doctor may use botulinum toxin injections to treat other problems as well. These could include chronic migraine headaches or excessive sweating.
How are botulinum toxin injections given?
Botulinum toxin injections are given in a doctor’s office. The toxin is mixed with saline (salt water). It is injected into the muscle with a tiny needle. You may receive 5 to 10 injections in 1 sitting. How many injections you receive depends on what condition you are being treated for. It also depends on the size of the area being treated.
Things to consider
Are botulinum toxin injections safe?
Botulinum toxin is made by the bacterium that causes food poisoning. Food poisoning can be fatal. A high dose of botulinum toxin could be fatal, too. However, the dose given in injections is so small that you shouldn’t have any harmful effects from the toxin.
Botulinum toxin has been used safely for a number of years.
What are some side effects of botulinum toxin injections?
You might have some soreness at the injection sites. To treat soreness, you can take acetaminophen (brand name: Tylenol) or ibuprofen (brand names: Advil, Motrin). You can also put an ice pack on the painful area.
You might also have the following side effects:
- Weakness in the muscles that were injected.
- Flu-like symptoms.
- Droopy or crooked eyebrows.
- Eye dryness or excessive tearing.
Side effects from botulinum toxin injections usually go away quickly.
Rarely, the effect of the botulinum toxin spreads to other parts of the body. This can cause more severe side effects. Call your doctor right away if you experience any of the following symptoms after receiving injections:
- Trouble breathing.
- Problems speaking or swallowing.
- All-over muscle weakness.
- Vision problems.
Questions to ask your doctor
- Do I need botulinum toxin injections?
- Do the injections hurt?
- How many will I need?
- How long will it take before I notice results?
- What can I do if the injections don’t help?
Copyright © American Academy of Family Physicians
This information provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. Talk to your family doctor to find out if this information applies to you and to get more information on this subject.