In 1860 Jean Antoine Villemin tried to disprove the nervous theory with his own scientific experiments, yet once again the nervous theories were so popular Villemin's common sense approach was ignored.
Deprived of "nutrition," Berkman wrote in describing Villemin's theory, "the air vesicles (alveoli) became impaired, they were unable to efficiently perform expiration. At the same time respiratory surface was reduced, and the blood accumulated in the bronchi (inflammation) to such an extent as to convert their mucous membrane into a kind of erectile tissue.
He wrote that he saw enough evidence to believe in the spasmotic theory of asthma, yet he also believed that bronchospasms were caused by nervous stimulation. He also believed asthma was an inflammatory disease and wrote about asthma as a hereditary disorder.
Salter believed some exciting factor (like dust or sterss) was recognized by the abdulla oblongotta, and a signal was sent via the pneumogastric nerve to the bronchiole fibres that wrap around the lungs signalling them to constrict. In this way asthma was a nervous condition.
Salter offered the following examples as proof asthma was started in the brain:
- Many patients feel fine as soon as they enter the doctor's office
- Mental emotion can bring on a paroxysm of asthma
- Mental emotion can resolve a paroxysm of asthma
- Remedies that relax the nervous system resolve asthma, such as tobacco, antispasmodics, and sedatives, nervous depressants. Examples include tobacco, alcohol, morphine, and especially chloroform.
Thus, it's for this reason Salter justifies using remedies to calm the mind such as smoking cigarettes, alcoholic drinks, formaldehyde, and sedatives. (to see more Salter remedies click here). Salter didn't deny the convulsive theory of asthma, yet his main focus was on the nervous theory because he believed the mind caused the convulsions or spasms in the lungs.
Pepper and Star explained that by the time the third edition of their book "A System of Practical Medicine" was published in 1885, Williams and Longet's bronchospasm theory of asthma was readily accepted. They wrote that "most modern pathologists have arrived at the conclusion that bronchial asthma is a spasmotic contraction of the middle and finer bronchi dependent on some derangement in the function of the pneumogastric nerve."
Likewise, Whitaker added that "whatever doubt still hung about the contraction of the bronchial tubes themselves would seem to have finally been dissipated by Lazarus (1891), who devised an ingenious apparatus wherewith he could, with the aid of curare and tracheotomy, experiment on animals in life, and whereby he produced the characteristic dyspnea of the disease by irritation of the vagus nerve."
Brenner (page 9) noted that sometime around 1900 Willem Einthoven (the inventor of the EKG) evaluated the bronchospasm theory of asthma and spasming diaphragm theory of asthma and proved the bronchospasm theory.
So based on experiments and personal observation, and with the appraisal of highly rated doctor's like Henry Hyde Salter, the bronchospasm and nervous theory of asthma won the day. The nervous theory remained popular until it was disproved in the 1950s. However, it really wasn't until the 1980s that the theory was laid to rest.
The bronchospasm theory of asthma lives on.
Click here for more asthma history.
- Pepper, William, Louis Star, "A System of Practical Medicine," Volume 3, page 184
- Berkart, J.B., "On Asthma: It's pathology and treatment," 1878, London, Chapter II, "History of Asthma," page 12
- Bree, Robert, "A Practical Inquiry into Disordered Respiration, distinguishing the Species of Convulsive Asthma, their Causes, and Indications of Cure, London, 1810. I could not find the 1790 edition online, yet this one serves our purpose.
- Schmiegelow, Ernest, "Asthma, considered specially in relation to nasal disease," 1890, London, page 4
- Jackson, Mark, "Asthma: The biography," 2009, London, pages 86-88 (If you're interested in a good asthma history book, this is it.)
- Bryan, Jenny, "Asthma," 2008, page 8
- Floyer, John, ed., "The Cyclopaedia of practical medicine," 1833, volume 1, page 186
- Whitaker, James Thomas, "The theory and practice of medicine," 1893
- Brenner, Barry E, ed, "Emergency Asthma" 1998, page 7 (chapter one is a history of asthma written by Brenner)
- Berkart, J.B.,"On Asthma: It's Pathology and Treatment, 18xx, volume I, page 23 (Berkart started his book with a good history of asthma up to his time. I base much of this post on his thorough asthma history.)
- Pepper, op cit, page 194
- Berkart, op cit, page 27
- Daintith, John, "Biographical encyclopedia of scientists."
- Ramadge, Francis Hopkins, "Asthma, its species and comications, 1835, London
- Duchenne, Guillaume Benjamin, "Selections from the works of Dr. Duchenne (de Boluogne)," 1883, London