Patricia Webster's struggle with the degenerative nerve condition known as Guillain-Barre syndrome has been a constant battle for the past 18 years. She has endured paralysis, a three-month-long hospital stay, lingering facial spasms and more.
But Webster, a 58-year-old mother of three who lives in Maidstone, England, said that for years, one of the most mortifying and perplexing symptoms of her condition came about whenever she sat down for a meal.
Specifically, whenever she ate or had a drink, tears would begin rolling down her face.
"For the last 18 years of my life I've done nothing, and the embarrassment of my eyes was a major part of this," she said. "I was fed up with people coming up to me and asking, 'What's wrong?' I'm not the sort of person who cries in public when I want attention."
Webster's doctors, too, were baffled by the unusual condition. At one point, an ophthalmologist told Webster that her only option would be major surgery on her eyes, which would have led to significant recovery time and scarring. And, even then, there was no guarantee that this extreme option would even work.
But two years ago, one of Webster's physicians offered a novel suggestion -- shots of Botox, delivered directly into the tear gland.
"Of course, I'm thinking, 'Botox ... it's a cosmetic treatment.' I thought, 'He's not worried about my eye, he's telling me that I'm wrinkly,'" Webster said, laughing.
But the results, it turned out, were no joke.
"It worked instantly," she said. "To coin a phrase, I couldn't believe my eyes."
While Botox, the brand name of the botulinum toxin produced by Allergan, is most often associated with its cosmetic applications, the original use of the drug was actually for nerve and muscle conditions like the one Webster experienced. The drug itself is a paralytic agent, and injecting it into a muscle effectively cuts the nerve signals that cause the muscle to contract.
For some, this means relief from a spastic muscle, or even a tension-induced headache. For Webster, it meant a stop to her unwanted tears.
Margaret Gurney, the nurse practitioner at Maidstone and Pembury hospitals who has been treating Webster for the past three years, says she has seen other patients who have experienced eating-induced hyperlacrimation, a condition commonly referred to as "crocodile tears."
Gurney said that while the Botox treatment does not work 100 percent of the time, it does relieve symptoms in some patients.
"There are not many people doing Botox for this condition," Gurney said. "Not many people know about it."
For Webster, the tears that she experienced while she ate were only one debilitating aspect of the disease that stripped the protective covering known as the myelin sheath from her nerves.
The myelin sheath acts a bit like the protective covering on a wire. Strip this covering off of the wire, and it becomes more prone to damage. Worse, it can also become tangled with other wires, making it more likely that signals will get crossed.
Webster was diagnosed with a particularly rare variant of Guillain-Barre known as Miller Fisher syndrome. Unlike the normal form of the condition, in which muscle problems tend to spread from the legs upward, Miller Fisher is associated with paralysis of the eye muscles and other related problems.
Even then, the uncontrolled production of tears while eating is a very rare symptom.