Monday, May 16, 2011

1850s: Asthma was thought to involve other organs

Asthma prior to the 1850s, and in many cases to the 1950s, was often considered to effect many organs, and not just the lungs. Consider the following:

  • Lungs: Bronchospasm, emphysema (air trapping), fluid in the lungs

  • Heart: Increased in size, weak pump, failure

  • Nose: Crease on bridge of nose, nasal irritation

  • Chest: Barrel chest, malformation of chest wall

  • Spine: Curvature of the spine, hunchback

  • Stomach: Eating too much made breathing difficult

Of course we know now that asthma does effect many systems of the body. For example, 70% of asthmatics have allergies, and this also results in nasal inflammation and irritation resulting in a crease due to constant rubbing.

We now know that too much food in the stomach causes the stomach to press up against the diaphragm making breathing difficult. Plus new studies show high fat food can cause an immune response where your body treats substances in fat as an allergen, and this causes increased inflammation in the lungs.

Chronic barrel chest and emphysema are not so much asthma but components of emphysema, a separate but equally distressing disease. An asthmatic can have a barrel chest, an asthmatic can have air trapping, yet it usually goes away once the exacerbation has diminished.

Of course it should be noted here that emphysema was not very understood and older references to emphysema generally refer to what we now call air trapping that causes a barrel chest.

Yet still, given limited wisdom, it's interesting to read how asthma experts of the past tried to link other organs as participating in the asthma patient's misery. One such expert I will introduce you to in a future post even linked asthma with rickets.

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