Saturday, November 29, 2014

2640 B.C.-1820 A.D.:First descriptions of hay fever

Like asthma, allergies were probably prevalent early in human history.  Yet the symptoms of a runny nose, sniffy, sneezes and wheezes, along with red and watery eyes, were probably confused with other maladies, such as asthma or influenza. So there were only random notations describing the malady before it was formally defined by the medical community in 1819.  

About 2,640 years before the birth of Christ, King Menes of Egypt was reported to have died after being stung by a wasp. As far as historians are aware, this is the first account of an allergic reaction.  So it's evident allergies go all the way back to the ancient world.   
King Menes (circa 2925 B.C.)

Right around this time a Middle Eastern Physician named El-Razi observed redness and swelling of the nasal passages in some of his patients.  He described what we might consider allergic rhinitis or hay fever.  Yet those terms weren't used until the 19th and 20th centuries.

Arnoldo Cantani, in his book, "Pediatric Allergy, Asthma and Immunology," described how Caesar Augustus suffered from asthma and seasonal rhinitis (allergies/ hay fever).  Caesar is also believed to have suffered from asthma. (1)

Roman Emperor Claudius (10-13 B.C to 54 A.D) is believed to have suffered from allergy symptoms, and his son Brittanicus (41?-55 A.D.) is believed to have suffered from an allergy to horses. Historical reports have it that when exposed to horses his eyes would swell up and he'd develop a rash.

Princes Nero and Brittanicus
Brittanicus was heir apparent to the throne.  Yet due to his allergies he was limited in what he could do.  And when his mother died, Claudius remarried to Agrippina the Younger.  She had a son named Nero, and Claudius adapted him.  Nero almost immediately won the favor of the public, and Nero ultimately eclipsed his younger brother and was named Emperor in 54 A.D.

Nero would ultimately become famous for throwing Christians to the Lions.  Yet within only a few months of his reign, he is believed to have poisoned his weaker, older brother Brittanicus to death.

Paul M. Ehrlich and Elizabeth Shimer Bowers, in their 2008 book "Living with Allergies," note that it was an Ancient Roman Physician who was the first to describe allergies.  The authors quote Lucretius, who lived from 99-55 B.C., as saying, "What is good for some may be fierce poisons for others." (2, page 4)

Physicians around 850 A.D. observed many of their patients developed sneezing, nasal stuffiness and runny noses when the roses were blooming.  Upon further examination they observed redness and swelling in the nasal passages that resulted in the runny nose, and they referred to this condition as rose fever.

The medical term catarrh was first used to describe the miserable condition that result in a runny nose around 1350 and 1400 A.D, according to The term catarrh comes from the Greek word katarrous which means "literally down-flowing."  So the term catarrh refers to the redness and swelling of the nasal passages that results in nasal drainage regardless of the cause.  It was a term commonly used by physicians through the 19th century.

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