Botox and asthma

  • Since 2002, Botox, the trade name for botulinum toxin, has been most commonly associated with cosmetic procedures used to reduce facial wrinkles by blocking messages from nerves to muscles, stopping the muscles from contracting. We do know that Botox has other medical applications too. It’s current and potential uses include the treatment of chronic migraines, eye conditions, movement disorders, excessive sweating as well as many others. It is an area in which there is a lot of research being conducted.

    You may have seen some reports in the media recently suggesting this concept might be successfully applied to help people with asthma.

    Unfortunately, the media reports weren’t quite clear. Although they were accurate in suggesting there had been some great outcomes in using this treatment, it wasn’t actually for asthma. Early indications from trials at Monash Medical Centre in Melbourne are that Botox injections in the voice box have the potential to help with the breathlessness associated with Vocal Cord Dysfunction (VCD). 

    VCD is not asthma

    VCD is a condition that can mimic asthma. In fact people can be diagnosed as having asthma and it’s only after they find that the asthma medications don’t really help their symptoms that they may be diagnosed with VCD. It can initially be very hard to distinguish between asthma and VCD as both conditions can present with the same symptoms – wheeze, cough and shortness of breath. One feature that distinguishes the two is that in VCD there is an obstruction to airflow in the voice box area as opposed to asthma where the air obstruction is in the lungs. Diagnosis is normally done with a lung function test like spirometry. In some cases an Ear, Nose and Throat specialist might also be involved to perform a procedure to look at the abnormal movement of the vocal cords. Current treatment for VCD is with speech therapy, which can be quite effective, but it takes time and can be costly. Botox could be a great new option if the trials continue to be positive.

    But hope for hayfever sufferers

    To date there is no evidence that Botox can help with asthma symptoms but Monash Medical Centre in Melbourne are in the planning stages of a new trial to start in 2013 to discover more information about how to use this substance in different ways. They will also conduct a trial of Botox gel to treat allergic rhinitis (hayfever). We do know that if someone has hayfever that is uncontrolled it can make their asthma control much worse. Who knows where the research will lead? Even if there’s an indirect positive effect it’s good news all round.


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