History of Asthma

Asthma is defined as a chronic condition of the lungs. It causes inflammation and narrows down the airways used in the breathing process. The signs of asthma are coughing, chest tightening and loss of breath along with your breath giving out a whistling sound while you breathe, called wheezing. The tubes that carry air in and out of the lungs are called airways. These airways are inflamed in cases of people suffering from asthma. Their airways are always sensitive to any external particle that they may breathe in and the airways are swollen at all the times. As the airways narrow down and pass less air, the asthmatic or people suffering from asthma face difficulty in breathing.

Asthma is not a new condition; in fact there are written, documented proofs of the asthma patients’ and their treatments from ancient Egyptian times. In the 1870s, the Georg Ebers Papyrus containing prescriptions written in hieroglyphics had over seven hundred remedies for asthma and it was found in Egypt. This prescription talked about an asthma medication to be prepared by mixing few herbs and heating them on a brick. This was done so that the patient can inhale the fumes. Even, centuries ago, the Chinese started inhaling beta-agonists obtained from herbs that contained ephedrine.

Replica of inhaler used in 1846

Replica of inhaler used in 1846

The real word asthma is a Greek word that is derivative of the verb aazein, which means to breathe out with open mouth or to breathe heavily. The phrase asthma made its first appearance in the Iliad, which had the meaning of short-drawn inhalation, but among these the most primitive reference text where the word can be found as a medical word is Corpus Hippocraticum.

However, it is difficult to determine whether in referring to asthma, Hippocrates as well as his school that existed between 460-360 B.C., meant an independent medical term or only a symptom. Master clinician, Aretaeus of Cappadocia offered the greatest clinical description of asthma in later antiquity. The frequent reference of asthma in the wide-ranging writings of Galen appears to be in a general conformity with the Hippocratic manuscript and to some level with the declarations of Aretaeus.

Asthma is a disease that has been around for thousands of years. Though asthma is referred in ancient texts and manuscripts, it was in the 1960s that the provocative factor of asthma was identified, and anti-inflammatory medicines were prescribed in addition to the treatment of asthma.

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