Wednesday, August 12, 2015

625-690: Would nausea cure your asthma?

Paulus Aegineta, along with many other physicians prior to the 20th century, recommended a good vomit as a remedy for asthma, along with many other ailments.  In his book "The Cannon" he described how to induce a good vomit.
Since to those who vomit with difficulty many disagreeable consequences are apt to happen, it will be proper to explain by what methods one may be made to vomit readily; for this operation evacuates phlegm and lightens the head, and prevents a person who may have eaten immoderately from suffering indigestion, and one who has taken too much wine from being hurt thereby.
Let the substances which are taken be neither sour nor dry, but part of a sweetish and liquid nature, and part acrid. Among these the radish is deserving of praise, and also the rocket, and old pickle, green marjoram, and a small quantity of onion and leek.
Vomiting is likewise promoted by ptisans (according to, this is a nourishing decoction said to have medicinal qualities) of pulse containing some honey; by soup of bruised beans and the fat of flesh; but one must not only take the juice, but swallow whole lumps of it; and one must not spend much time upon mastication (chewing); but these things ought to be soft from boiling.
It is clear, also, that it is the sweetish kinds of wine which ought to be preferred, for such are aptest to swim upon the stomach; and tepid drink ought to be used. It is proper also to eat almonds dipped in honey, also sweet cakes, and the moistened seed of the pompion and cucumber pounded with honey.
The root likewise of the cucumber rubbed with honey has some effect. Those who wish to use more powerful medicines, mix some wine with a decoction of the bulb of the narcissus.
Vomiting is also produced by the ointment of iris, if one will smear one's fingers in it and tickle one's throat. It is also to be attended to in vomiting not to intermit after vomiting is once begun; and to bathe the face and wash the mouth with sour wine or water, for this is beneficial to the teeth, and relieves the head.
Francis Adams said, in 1844, that what Aegineta wrote about vomiting was an abridged version of Oribasis.  He said that Aegineta, along with other ancient authors, including Galen, Diocles, Archegenes and Celsus all probably formed their opinions on the matter from Oribasius.

Adams said that Aetius recommended vomiting as a "cure of arthritic diseases, dropsy, and jaundice. One of his simplest emetics consists of the decoction of radishes, with the strained infusion of dried figs. He mentions the oil of privet as a most effectual emetic."

Adams said that Avicenna's "information on the subject" was very similar to Aegineta's, although "he properly states that the too frequent repetition of emetics hurts the stomach, is prejudicial to the chest, the sight, the teeth, in chronic pains of the head, unless arising from sympathy with the stomach: and in epilepsy, when the cause of it is seated in the head."

If this discussion wasn't interesting enough on it's own, consider the following, as noted by Adams.  
According to Avicenna and Averrhoes, the proper season for emetics is the summer. Rhases says that much vomiting hurts the liver, breast, eyes, and lungs, occasioning haemoptysis. He directs the person to bind a compress on the forehead before taking an emetic; and to wash the mouth and face with hydromel after its operation. He adds that persons who have long necks, prominent chests, and who are lean, ought to abstain altogether from emetics.
Haly Abbas, on the other hand, said Adams, completely forbade emetics for diseases of the head or chest, especially in cases of phthisis.

Considering a good vomit was recommended by 19th century asthma physician Henry Hyde Salter, who was also the physician to a young Teddy Roosevelt, one can only wonder why he might have written in his diary that asthma remedies often made him feel worse.
  1. Aegineta, Paulus, "The Seven Books of Paulus Aegineta," translated by Francis Adams, volume I, 1844, The Snydenham Society, pages 52-54
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