Friday, July 29, 2016

1820-1900: Best remedy for hay-fever may be a holiday

Map of White Mountain Region
presented by Dr. Morill Wyman
in "Autumnal Catarrh."
(4, inside cover)
Dr. John Bostock, the same man who first defined hay-fever, may also have been one of the first to leave his home and participate in what later became known as a Hay Fever Holiday.  (1, page 26-27)

He observed that when he went on vacation to the seaside he gained relief from hay fever, and when he retired to the sea-side just prior to the hay fever season the ailment was prevented altogether.

He, along with various other hay fever sufferers, found they were unable to live a normal life, which included performing their normal vocations, during the hay fever season, which generally included the summer months.

They found that when they retreated to the seaside they were afforded with relief.  If they retired to the seaside prior to the hay fever season they were often able to prevent the condition altogether.  This became such a fad that it ultimately earned the name "hay fever holiday."

By the 1870 physicians of hay fever sufferers were commonly recommending hay fever holidays as a regular preventative and treatment for the condition.  They had it down to such a science that they would even prescribe a specific region of the country for the patient to vacation to.

They learned that ideal places to get away from hay fever "exciting causes," or what we would refer to as triggers, were places of high altitudes, such as mountainous regions such as Denver, or the prairies of Nebraska, or the White Mountains of New Hampshire.

They learned that locations along the sea were also ideal, such as along the shores of Lake Michigan, in places such asMackinac Island and Petoski.

Morrell Wyman, in his 1876 book "Autumnal Catarrh," went as far to list in his book all the best regions for getting away from hay fever, or for curing the malady as it already exists, which included: (3, pages 73-89)

  •  A sea voyage, such as a voyage across the Atlantic or a cruise many miles from land
  • Sea side residence, such as permanent removal to the sea coast of Maine, or an island like Martha's Vineyard or Nantucket or the Isles of Shaols
  • City living, such as Boston brings relief for some
  • Mountainous regions, such as the White Mountain region
Wyman even included maps of the best regions to vacation to, particularly the White Mountain region.

Hay fever holidays became an important source of income for these places, benefiting local merchants and, in some cases, forming resort towns specifically for hay fever sufferers.  These resorts would be busy during the hay fever season, and barren during the off-season.

But hay fever holidays were very expensive.  This meant that the only way to participate in this prescription was to be wealthy.  Fortunately, however, it was observed that most who suffered from the condition were wealthy citizens, such as physicians and doctors.

This resulted in many theories about hay fever.  One was that it was a modern disease that only occurred in persons who grew up away from hay fields and farms associated with urban life.  People who grew up in cities and towns were not exposed to such things as hay and grass, and therefore did not develop sensitivities to them.

Another theory was that hay fever was a disease of the educated, meaning that the better educated citizens of a society are less likely to be spending time in the fields and farms, and therefore more likely to develop hay fever.

Yet another theory was that hay fever was a nervous condition just like asthma, caused by the stress of city life, or the stress of working long hours in an office all day.  It was caused by the stress of obtaining an education, and the stress of making tough decisions, and the stress of making tough decisions in order to make profit.

It was, in other words, a disease of the aristocracy; a disease of the rich; a disease of the well-off; a disease of the upper class; a disease of the most successful members of society.  

Allergy historian Gregg Mittman said, in his 2007 book, that...
...hay fever holidays enjoyed by America's well-to-do were part of an expanding nineteenth-century tourist trade.  Leisure had become both a popular pastime and a marketable commodity after the Civil War. And... hay fever began as an illness that only the wealthy could afford to treat." (2, page 12)
Like retirement resorts in Florida today, hay fever holidays became a major tourist trade, and this was significant for the economies of these areas.  Petoski was amid the towns in Michigan, like my home town of Manistee, where lumberjacks migrated to because of all the white pines in the area.

Manistee, for instance, was so prosperous during the lumbering era that it was one of a few places in Michigan to become a city before even being designated a village.  It grew that fast.  It was such a prosperous industry that by the turn of the 20th century Manistee had the third most millionaires per capita in the United States.

Yet the lumbering boom ended in the 1920s because most of the white pines were cut down without being replaced.  Manistee's economy took a significant hit, while the economy of Petosky continued to flourish, mainly because of the new market created their by hay fever vacationers.

The interesting thing is, there was really never any evidence that hay fever vacations did any good.

Although, there were many wealthy physicians, businessmen, and published authors who were convinced it worked, and who continued to vacation for the remainder of their adult lives.

It was such a popular pasttime that even up until the 1990s relocation was still prescribed by physicians of asthma and hay fever sufferers.  Even to this day there are people who relocate to prevent asthma and allergies.  Sometimes it works, although the evidence suggests they usually don't.

  1. Smith, William Abbots, ""On Hay-Fever, Hay-Asthma, or Summer Catarrh," 1867, London, Henry Renshaw, pages 17-24.  The quotations are from Smith's descriptions of Phoebus's ideas. 
  2. Mitman, Gregg, "Breathing Space: how Allergies Shape our lives and landscapes," 2007, New Haven and London, Yale University Press
  3. Wymann, Morrill, "Autumnal Catarrh," 1876, New York, Published by Hurd and Houghton
  4. Holopeter, William Clarence, "Hay fever and its successful treatment," 1898, Philadelphia, P. Blakiston's Son & Co
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