8 Asthma Remedies You May Remember
Last updated: March 2022
Listed here are old asthma treatments from the 20th century. Most of these were top-line asthma medicines at one time. Most are now off the market. Those that remain are rarely used. Still, they were very nice medicines for their time.
Old asthma treatments
It was isolated in 1901. By 1910 it was shown to rapidly open airways. It was the first rescue medicine. At first, it was only available in hospitals. You had to get an injection into a muscle. By the 1930s, you could inhale it at home using nebulizers. Electric nebulizers were available. But the most common ones were operated by squeezing a rubber bulb with your hand. They had funny names like "The Atomizer." In 1957, an epinephrine inhaler was introduced. Today, epinephrine is rarely used in the treatment of asthma.1
It’s the active ingredient in a herb called Ephedra. It was ingested in a bitter-tasting tea in 100 A.D. India as an asthma remedy. It was rediscovered for the modern world during the 1920s. It was available in a variety of over-the-counter asthma remedies. Many doctors prescribed it for asthmatics. It was taken off the market in the early 2000s.2
It was introduced during the 1940s. It was the first time the epinephrine molecule was changed. It was available as an alternative to epinephrine. In 1957, it was available as an inhaler called the Medihaler Iso.3
During the 19th century, caffeine was sometimes prescribed for asthma. The source was usually coffee. During the 1920s, the active ingredient was learned to be theophylline. It was isolated from tea leaves. It was soon discovered to open airways. By the 1940s, IV theophylline was available in hospitals. By the 1950s, physicians started prescribing it for asthmatics at home. It was available as an active ingredient in a variety of over-the-counter remedies. Tedral and Bronchedron are two examples.4,5
So technically theophylline is still an available asthma treatment but is rarely used on its own. By the 1970s, slow-release theophylline became available as a bronchodilator. It quickly became a top-line asthma medicine. I was prescribed Theovent in 1980 and eventually Theodur. These are just a couple of brand names. The theophylline bubble burst when combination inhalers like Advair entered the market. Today it’s more of a second-line asthma medicine. It’s actually making a comeback of sorts, as some research shows it may also reduce airway inflammation.5,6
The ancient Egyptians inhaled smoke of dried and crushed herbs. In 1833, Atropine was discovered as the active ingredient. It is a muscarinic asthma medicine. It was a top-line asthma medicine during the 1980s. It was inhaled in nebulizer breathing treatments. A better, safer, muscarinic was introduced to the market in the late 1970s. It was called ipatropium bromide (Atrovent). Atropine was no longer needed. It was gradually phased out as an asthma remedy.7,8
The epinephrine molecule was tinkered with again. This version was far safer than epinephrine and isoproterenol. It was available as a solution used in nebulizers. This is what I had when I went to emergency rooms as a kid, before being injected with epinephrine. It was also available as a white inhaler. I was prescribed one in 1980. It was taken off the market in 2010.8,9
Technically, cromolyn is still on the market as well, but physicians have mixed opinions about it. It used to be a first-line treatment in the 1980s, but it is not as commonly used now. Cromolyn is used to stabilize your airways to prevent asthma symptoms. The device used to inhale it os called the Spinhaler and it was the first dry powder inhaler (DPI). An Intal solution was later introduced to be nebulized. An Intal inhaler was also later introduced. King pharmaceuticals discontinued manufacturing of cromolyn, but not due to lack of safety or effectiveness.9,10
Did you recognize any of these?
Most asthmatics who grew up in the 20th century used at least one of these. What about you? Any one of these old asthma treatments ring a bell? Share in the comments below!
Has laughter ever triggered your asthma?