Thursday, November 12, 2015

400 B.C.: Did Hippocrates recognize allergies?

While hay fever was not mentioned until the 19th century, and allergies not defined until the 20th century, the signs and symptoms of allergies were well known to physicians of the ancient world.  Perhaps the first allusion to this was by Hippocrates during the 5th century.

Claude Lenfantt, in his introduction to the book "The Immunological Basis of Asthma, quotes Hippocrates as saying: 
Cheese does not harm all men alike, some can eat their fill of it without the slightest hurt, nay, those it agrees with are wonderfully strengthened thereby.  Others come off badly.  So the constitution of these men differ, and the difference lies in the constituent of the body which is hostile to cheese, and is roused and stirred to action under its influence. (1, page introduction)
Since Hippocrates probably obtained his medical wisdom from his ancestors, who were probably teachers at the Asclepion at Cos, we can probably surmise that physicians going back to the early ancient world observed the symptoms of allergies.

Surely allergies caused grief and suffering for those afflicted with it, this would have been minor compared to all the diseases that plagued the ancient world.  So allergies, even more so than asthma, was essentially ignored by the medical community.  The symptoms were probably recognized and brushed aside as catarrh, or the common cold.

References:

  1. Lenfant, Claude, author of introduction, Bart Lambrecht, Henk Hoogsteden, Zuzana Diamant, editors, "The Immunological Basis of Asthma," Lung Biology of Health and Disease, Volume 174, Claude Lenfant, executive editor, 2003, New York, Marcel Dekker, Inc. 

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