Botox is best known as a cosmetic treatment for frown lines, but the drug also effectively treats the after effects of Bell's palsy and other serious facial nerve problems.
Bell's palsy results from damage to the facial nerve that controls muscles on one side of the face. Ear-nose-throat surgeon Dr. Matthew Kircher of Loyola University Medical Center is giving patients Botox injections to treat facial nerve disorders that sometimes occur after Bell's palsy, including unwanted facial movements known as synkinesis.
Botox injections work by weakening or paralyzing certain muscles or by temporarily blocking the nerve input into the muscles.
Facial synkinesis is the involuntary movement of one set of muscles when the patient tries to move another set of muscles. For example, when the patient blinks, the mouth smiles or grimaces.
Botox can improve the symmetry of the face and reduce muscle contractures and spasms. Botox also is effective for platysmal banding -- verticle lines that develop in the neck as a result of muscle contractions.
Kircher said he starts out conservatively, treating patients with dilute doses. After seeing how well the patient does, Kircher adjusts the dose if necessary.
Botox is not a cure. The drug wears off after three or four months, so patients need repeat injections.
"While we can never make the face perfect, we have found Botox to be extremely effective," Kircher said. "It can make a huge difference in patients' lives."
Kircher is an assistant professor in the Department of Otolaryngology of Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine.