When you hear the word Botox, you immediately think of celebrities getting injections to eliminate wrinkles on their foreheads or those crinkly lines around their eyes. In light of the drug's popularity as a cosmetic treatment, it's strange to think that what people are having injected into their faces is actually a toxin produced by botulinum. That's a type of bacteria that causes botulism, a particularly unpleasant and potentially fatal type of food poisoning [source: Kedlaya, Mapes].
Dr. Justinus Kerner, the German physician who first discovered botulism in the 1820s, originally called it "wurstgift" — German for "sausage poison." He also was the first person to inject himself with the stuff to document its effects, which include muscle weakness, difficulty swallowing and, if left untreated, paralysis and respiratory failure [source: Mapes].
Eventually, doctors figured out that tiny, purified doses of the toxin actually could have beneficial effects. But beauty wasn't the first thing on their minds. When the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) first approved the preparation that eventually became known as Botox in 1989, it was for use in treating strabismus (cross-eyes), blepharospasm (eyelid spasms) and facial spasms [source: Kedlaya]. That toxin's ability to prevent nerves from sending signals to muscles (thereby causing muscle relaxation) could be used for many purposes.
In the early 1990s, a Canadian ophthalmologist, Dr. Jean Carruthers, discovered that when she injected Botox into patients to treat blepharospasms, their frown lines started to disappear. Dermatologists soon began using it for that purpose off-label, and by 1997, Botox was so much in demand that the supply temporarily ran out. The FDA eventually approved it for appearance enhancement [sources: Kedlaya, Mapes].
Doctors have found scores of other non-cosmetic uses for Botox. Here are 10 applications that don't have anything to do with wrinkly skin.