Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Botox therapy: what are the occasional down sides of treatment?

Receiving botulinum toxin (botox) injections in vocal cords and also in neck/shoulder muscles for some years now reflects this writers desire for continuing treatment. Botox is a safe and effective treatment for many forms of dystonia. However, there are times when the experience is not so pleasant. Travelling long distances for treatment is anxiety provoking. Occasionally experiencing mild complications is challenging. The lack of appropriate levels of knowledge by most family doctors and allied health professionals i.e. speech pathologists, radiologists, physiotherapists etc, can be distressing.


Botox is recognised globally as an appropriate drug of choice for treating people with symptoms of dystonia. Medical evidence states risk factors are low. Over a long period of time some people may develop antibodies to this drug. Therefore, there may be a need to explore other treatment options for a minority of people. Establishing an alternative treatment plan may be hindered if a person lives a long way from the treatment centre.

In
Australia, the city of Brisbane has the closest treatment centre to Cairns in Far North Queensland. Brisbane is 1,600 kilometres from Cairns thus making the return trip 3,200 kilometres. Cairns is the main city servicing vast areas of the Atherton Tablelands, Cape York Peninsula and the Torres Strait Islands. Getting around the city of Brisbane can be difficult for people from country areas and the Islands in the North. Travelling these distances means many people need to cope with climatic changes, fatigue from hours of travel, and cultural differences just to get to Cairns airport as well as anxiety about what will happen with each treatment.

Sometimes treatment is not a positive experience! It is important for non-dystonics and observers to understand the broader experiences resulting from treatment. There are indeed some rather nasty side effects many people experience at some time. Injections are not always straight forward.

For some, the breathiness following treatment for laryngeal dystonia (spasmodic dysphonia) lasts much longer than a few weeks. Also, the softness of voice may not get much louder at all. Dysphagia can be a problem after injections. Many people find it lasts only a couple of weeks. However, people who have an underlying degree of dysphagia to begin with may find botox injections make it much worse. This means some people need to have thickened fluids and soft diet at all times. There may be a need for a speech pathologist to monitor the person's swallowing by arranging barium swallow x-rays from time to time.

One of the most unpleasant side effects to vocal cord injections would have to be a painful treatment followed by bleeding. People receiving treatment for laryngeal dystonia and cervical dystonia may also experience a very dry mouth requiring clinical intervention. It is not uncommon for some people to wonder whether or not treatment is worthwhile. Fatigue resulting from speech has a huge effect on day to day life - with or without treatment.

Although it is not always smooth sailing, relaxation of spasms resulting from botox treatment seems to give enough relief for most people to persevere with their treatment schedule. It is important that family doctors and allied health professionals e.g. speech pathologists, radiologists, physiotherapists etc, understand the issues discussed here.

If you would like to comment on any treatment outcomes it is possible to do so anonymously. Click on 'comments' below. Alternatively, email me on
s.j.bayliss@bigpond.com.au. I will get back to you.

Sue Bayliss. Cairns, Australia.

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