Asthma is not new – as it’s recent “popularity” seems to suggest – Asthma like symptoms were first recorded 3500 years ago in an Egyptian manuscript called Ebers Papyrus. The word Asthma was also seem in Homer’s Iliad. The word means “Laboured Breathing” in Greek. The word Asthma was first used to describe an illness 500 years later by the famous Greek physician Hippocrates. The Romans used to treat asthma by giving sufferers Owl’s blood in wine – more like Magic then Medicine !!
The first book specifically about asthma was written in AD 1190 by a Spanish doctor, Moses Maimonides. He was physician to the Sultan Saladin. Maimonides wrote that asthma was characterised by sudden bouts of breathlessness, his treatments included copious amounts of chicken soup and sexual abstinence !! He also advocated the Holistic approach and had the humility to admit that he lacked a magical cure.
Physicians during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries realised that asthma was due to constrictions of the Bronchi (The airways into the lungs). One doctor called asthma “Epilepsy of the lungs” reflecting the sudden and unpredictable nature of asthma “attacks”.
Throughout history there have been several reports of folk remedies – some of which probably worked like today’s Bronchodilators – drugs that counteract the constriction of the airways. It was not until the 1960’s that physicians discovered that asthma is an inflammatory disease. The immune system of asthmatics is overly sensitive to “triggers” (such as pollen, animal fur/hair and house dust mites). This discovery started a revolution in the treatment of asthmatics – instead of just treating the constriction of the airways doctors now treat the underlying inflammation as well.
As we head into the 21st Century doctors have a vast arsenal of drugs and treatments at their disposal allowing asthmatics to lead normal fulfilled lives.