Wednesday, July 16, 2014

1786: Thomas Withers and his "Treaties on Asthma":

William Cullen was among the first physicians to form conclusions about asthma based on studies he performed, as opposed to speculating about it.  He believed a muscle was a continuation of a nerve, and therefore that asthma was a nervous disorder.  In 1786, Thomas Withers wrote a book called "A treaties on Asthma," in which he expounded on the ideas of Cullen.  (1, page 75)(2, page 17-18)

Thomas Withers (1750-1809) was a physician to the New York County Hospital.   Like Cullen, he believed asthma started in the mind and resulted in convulsions of the fibres that wrap around the lungs.  He believed in the nervous theory of asthma and in the convulsive theory of asthma.  (1, page 75)

In a review on Wither's book, Tobias George Smollettt, in 1786, compared him with John Floyer, who is considered by many to be the father of the convulsive theory of asthma.  Smollet said:
'This is an old building, with a modern front and fashionable ornaments: in other words, it is the valuable work of Floyer, with explanations from the modern nervous papathology. Dr. Withers, in his former works, adhered so closely to his master's precepts, almost to his words, that we did not expect any thing new. (2, pages 17-18)
 Smollet continued:
We hoped, indeed, that experience might have opened sources of enquiry, which his unwearied diligence would have pursued; but the little which is his own, is not of the best kind. The account of the asthma, as may be expected, when we consider the sources, is clear, intelligible, and judicious: the cafes are sometimes unnecessarily minute, at others imperfect; they arc in general very trifling, and the effects of remedies unreasonably exaggerated.  (2, page 18)
Dr. Withers believed spasmotic asthma was "a nervous disorder accompanied with great irritability of the lungs." Through his various books he provided various pithy examples of cases of asthma he witnessed, along with the remedies used. (3, page 300)

He believed a good remedy for nervous, or spasmotic, asthma was opium, which "diminishes the irritability and spasmotic contraction of the air vessels; mitigates the cough; lessens the pain, anxiety and difficulty of breathing; shortens the duration and the facilitates the cure of the asthmatic fit." (3, page 300)

  1. Jackson, Mark," Asthma: The Biography," 1999, New York, London, Oxford University Press???????
  2. Smollet, Tobias Georgy, ed., "The Critical review, or, Annals of literature, Volume 62, 1786 , page 17-18, a professional review of withers book, "a treaties of the asthma, to which are added cases and observations, in which the asthma is complicated with other diseases." 
  3. Withers, Thomas, "Observations on the Abuse of Medicine," 1775, London, 339
  4. Griffiths, Ralph, Grifiths, G.E., ed.,  "The Monthly Review, or Literary Journal," London, 1787, pages 332-334, a professional review of Wither's "A Treaties on Asthma."
  5. Ramadge, Francis Hopkins, "Asthma, its species and complications, or researches into pathology or disordered respiration; with remarks on the remedial treatment applicable to each variety; being a practical and theoretical review of this malady, considered in its simple form, and in connection with disease of the heart, catarrh, indigestion, etc." 1835, London,  Longman, Rees, Orme, Brown, Green, and Longman

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