Tuesday, January 21, 2014

400 B.C.: The Hippocratic Inhaler

The first inhaler was probably invented long before Hippocrates walked the earth in the 5th century B.C.  Yet the first time it was ever recorded was by Hippocrates, or at least by one of the writers of the Hippocratic Corpus.  

Then inventor, or even the society it was invented by and for, is unknown to historians and will probably never be learned.  Yet we do know it existed thanks to Hippocrates.  He was born to a long line of physicians, and would have had access to medical knowledge saved at the Aesclepius of Cos. 

As the patient slept, the god would appear to the priest in a vision, and the remedy revealed.  When the patient woke the remedy would be revealed, and provided to the patient.  One such remedy may possibly have been an inhaler later described by Hippocrates. 

It wasn't called an inhaler back then, of course not, as the term wasn't coined yet.  It probably wasn't even used for asthma, nor asthma-like symptoms, although it may have.  And when it worked at healing an ailment, or disease, it was recorded at the temple.  And the next time a person came in with the same complaint, the priest had access to this remedy. 

Hundreds of years later Hippocrates would have had access to this wisdom.  So in his Hippocratic Corpus he mentions this inhaler-like device.  The model basically consisted of a jar with a hole in the lid for the insertion of a hollow reed for inhaling the contents. The mouth was saved from burns by use of a soft sponge or egg shells between the mouth and reed.  (1, page 461)

Boiling water would be inserted into the jar, perhaps a recipe of medicines, the lid placed atop the jar, the reed stick inserted through the hole, and the patient would inhale by placing his mouth on the reed stick.  It was a simple design and must have worked quite well, because it was the design used by physicians for many years.

Actually, many believe it was the Hippocratic Inhaler that was fine tuned during the 19th century when the first two inhalers were manufactured and placed on the market. 


  1. Glasgow Medical Journal, Volume 14

     By Glasgow and West of Scotland Medical Association, Royal Medico-Chirurgical Society of Glasgow

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