Wednesday, September 23, 2015

980-1037: Avicenna shared his wisdom about asthma

Avicenna (980-1037) was the Arabic prince of physicians who wrote a book, "The Cannon," which was the main medical textbook from the time it was published until about 1500 A.D..  It is from this book that we learn what he knew about asthma, and how he would treat the disease.

So, what did Avicenna know about asthma?  Mark Jackson, in his book "Asthma: The Biography," answers this question.  He said: 
"According to Ibn Sina, asthma was a chronic disease in which patients often suffered 'acute paraxysms with similarity to the paroxysms of epilepsy and spasm.  The flow of thick humours from the head to the lungs produced a situation in which 'the patient finds no escape from rapid panting, like the labored panting of one who is being choked or rushed'.  (3, pages 30-31)
Jackson listed Avicenna's recommended treatment for asthma: (3, pages 30-31):
  1. Purging
  2. Vomiting
  3. Blood letting
  4. Voice exercises
  5. Fats of hares
  6. Deer
  7. Gazelles
  8. Penises of foxes
  9. Lungs of foxes (3)
Other remedies were:
  1. Arsenic in a pill with pine resin in a drink with honey water or inhalation (5, page 325)
  2. Sulphur in water with soft boiled eggs or inhalation
In 1933 E. Stolkind described Avicenna as not providing much new information as was provided by Galen.  However, Avicenna, along with other physicians of his day, mentioned the relationship between asthma and nerves of the brain.   (4, pages 1121-2) 

Along with the brain, he also linked asthma with the liver and the stomach.  It's for this reason that he recommended arsenic as a remedy.  (5, page 408)

So, if you had access to gazelles and foxes you were probably able to keep your asthma in check.  What do you think about that?

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