Sunday, February 26, 2017

1978: No antihistamines for this asthmatic

I remember my mom specifically telling me when I was a kid that I can't have antihistamines. She said they may cause bronchospasm, and that doctor said so. What my doctor prescribed for me instead was Tedral and salt water drops. That's it!

I remember many times when my nose was so plugged I couldn't sleep. I remember playing outside and my eyes would basically swell shut. Mom would have me lie on the couch, or on my bed, with a cold, wet rag over my eyes. Obviously, this affected my social life.

It also affected my asthma. 

My doctor, according to a 1978 notes my mom took while talking with my doctor on July 14, 1978, I was supposed to take Tedral three times a day, and rinse my nose with salt water drops four times every day. The medicine tasted terrible, and rinsing out my nose with salt water was torture. I hated both. 

It kind of reminds me of something Teddy Roosevelt wrote in his diary about growing up with asthma in the mid 19th century: "The medicine was often tortuous, and was often worse than the disease." I am paraphrasing it here, but that's pretty much what he was saying. I would have to say, that in the 1970s, asthma treatment wasn't much different. 

I can understand why my doctor would not prescribe for me a medicine that probably would have offered me some relief. It goes back to a myth in medicine during the 1950s and 60s that antihistamines, although they offered relief from allergies, dehydrated your lungs. This, it was believed, would cause bronchospasm and asthma.

I think it would have made more sense if they would have prescribed me an antihistamine, such as Marax (I am told it actually tasted good). I could have trialed it to see if it offered a benefit, If it didn't, or if my asthma got worse while taking it, I could have stopped. But this trial never happened. Instead, based on a myth, I suffered.

Now, by 1976, this myth was on the way out the door. The down side here is that most doctors were educated back in the 1950s, when the myth was taught in medical schools. Unless they kept up to date on their studies about asthma and allergies (and asthma was considered an allergic disease back then), doctors -- such as my doctor -- would have prevented themselves from prescribing antihistamines to asthmatic kids such as myself. 

An article in the January, 1968, edition of the Journal of the National Medical Association makes light of this myth. 
Antihistamines. The use of antihistamines in asthmatic children has been condemned in the past. In theory, they should be valuable in counteracting the effect of one of the principal allergic mediators-histamine. However, they do dry secretions and possibly, aggravate the patient with asthma. Practically speaking, some small children with pollen allergy do respond to antihistamine. But, generally, they are not effective in reversing bronchospasm. (1)
I did not start using antihistamines until I was over 18. They worked great, and have never induced asthma. I suppose I could hate my doctor and parents for not allowing me to have them, but I'm not. This is just one of those life lessons you learn as you grow older. You do the best you can with the wisdom you have today, and as you learn better you do better.

  1. LeNoir, Michael A., Lawrence D. Robinson, outpatient management of an asthmatic child, Journal of the National Medical Association, January, 1976, page 46-50,, accessed 2/22/17

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