Wednesday, September 21, 2016

1848: The Chambers dry powdered inhaler

Surely there were powders that were inhaled since the beginning of time.  People would sun dry and crush herbs, and then inhale the powder.  Sometimes they'd use a funnel.  One of my patients said he used to inhale asthma powder in the 1950s with a funnel he made with a magazine.

Thomas K. Chambers, in 1848, announced that he believed the inhalation of powder would allow for the direct application of medicine to the lungs, which are otherwise "inaccessible." (1) (2)

For doing this he introduced a glass funnel of his own design specifically made to inhale a very fine powder of pollen of lycopodium or club moss with nitrate of silver or sulphate of copper, or both. (1) (2)

The device and how to use it was described by Chambers in the Boston Medical and Surgical Journal in February of 1849:
The patient should introduce into his mouth, as far as he can without choking, a well-dried glass funnel, and draw in his breath strongly, whilst he himself, or a second parly, dusts the powder in a dense cloud into the large end with an ordinary nursery puff-ball. If the dust is raised by an attendant, the patient can indicate the moment he inspires by raising his hand. 
To obviate the necessity for withdrawing the funnel after each inhalation, to prevent the dust being blown about the room, an apparatus with a double valve and a closed powder-box may be used, which allows the dust to pass inwards only; but the necessary employment of metal makes the machine less agreeable than the more awkward but cleaner looking and less formidable glass.
Chambers describes that inhaling such a "dust" is an "inconvenience" and often induces coughing, yet it's better than "introducing a sponge to the larynx, as has been recommended."

While Chambers said his inhaler was nice for inhaling medicine, it was far more complicated to use than inhaling fumes from a sponge or other such devices.

  1. Sanders, Mark, "Pioneers of Inhalation,", a slideshow by Mark Sanders,
  2. Chambers, Thomas, "Inhalation of Nitrate of Silver,"Boston Medical and Surgical Journal, February to August, 1849, Edited by J.V.C. Smith, Volume XL, Boston, David Clapp,  pages 394-5
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