Dr.Kamini Silvarajan MD/AAAM

Editorial Board: Dr.Kamini Silvarajan MD/AAAM

Asthma History

Over and over again in Medical History asthma have been mentioned widely. So it can aptly be termed as an ancient disease. It is not right therefore to term it as a disease that is only a resultant of modern day lifestyle. 

But definitely there is an increase in number of asthma cases over the last few years. This is obviously attributed to the increase in number of pollutants in the atmosphere. 

The term asthma comes from Greek language, the original word panos meaning to pant or to breathe with an open mouth.

The Greek people respected the panos as they considered their condition to be a visit from Gods. In the first century AD Aretaeus, a Greek physician made an observation that the women were more susceptible to asthma than men. He said that the men had more chances of dying from it. And also, that the children had better chances of complete recovery from the disease. 

In the second century AD Galen, the consulting physician to many Roman emperors described asthma to be a seizure-like disease of the lungs. He also correctly observed that asthma was a disease caused by blockade of the bronchial tubes.

In 1552 Archbishop Hamilton of Saint Andrews, who was suffering with asthma for a long time was treated by a famous physician of his era. His name was Girolamo Cardano. He gave the Archbishop a complete new routine replete with exercise and diet. 

He also was known to have removed a leather pillow and large feather bed from the Archbishop’s bedroom. All this gave immediate relief to the Archbishop from his lifelong illness and gave much fame and acclaim to the physician. This hugely popular success story was perhaps the first reported case of usage of environmental controls in the treatment of asthma.

The famous physician Van Helmont who suffered from asthma was the doctor who established a clear link between asthma and smoke and irritants. He compared asthma to epilepsy like attacks. He also wrote that asthma originated in the pipes of the lungs. Thomas Siddenheim compared the asthmatic condition to be a disease of the lungs wherein the bronchial tubes were all stuffed up. 

In the year 1830 Eberle made an observation of asthma being associated with heredity and infection. Eberle treated the patients with bloodletting, inducing vomiting with opium and instructing them to smoke stramonium leaves.

In 1835 when Laennec invented the stethoscope the research on asthma took a giant leap. The doctors could now clearly hear the classic symptom of wheezing. In 1850 Gerhardt mentioned in his writings that asthma can be triggered by chemical odours, strong perfumes and changes in temperature and humidity. 

Now the physicians were really making headway into the right directions in diagnosing and treating asthma. There were clear indications of the disease having a clear connection with allergens.

In 1864 Dr. H. Salter discovered that animal dander could trigger asthma. There were many more researches in this field of establishing asthma to be closely related to certain allergens. For many years then asthma was still an enigma for the doctors because sometimes it was evident that it had a clear genetic connectivity and on other occasions it was clearly indicative of being allergic in nature.

By 1900 it was also established that asthma and hay fever were closely related disorders. Since the confusion regarding the disease was still heavily prevailing, many doctors also started predicting the disease to be purely a psychosomatic disorder. Many of the studies of the earlier twentieth century were focussed on this. 

This kind of mindset was actually very hampering to the advancement in researches in the field. The discoveries that happened also were sidetracked because of this popular belief. It was much later that it was finally proved beyond all doubt that asthma was a physical illness that was totally governed by physical reasons and was not really a disease having its origin in the mind.

In the later part of the twentieth century there was considerable advancement in the field of research pertaining to asthma. This was possible because of multiple advancements in science and technology, including the progress in the field of genetics. With major discoveries in the field of allergies it was clearly established that asthma was triggered off in many allergic people because of allergens and not heredity.

The field of asthma research was finally reaching new horizons and various hoaxes associated with the disease were broken one after the other. Also with the advancement in technology came many more lifestyle diseases and some kinds of asthma were also established to be associated with the hazards of modern day living and occupational exposure to many kind of allergens.

At present the doctors have great knowledge about asthma and can very effectively diagnose, treat and control the disorders in people of all age groups. Finding discoveries has given new hope to millions of people all over the world who get diagnosed with the disease asthma almost everyday.