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hieroglyphics of a pharaoh sneezing

A Pithy History Of Allergies

So many asthmatics also have allergies. So, I thought it would be neat to talk a little allergy history. So, that said, here’s a short and sweet history of allergies.

Mapping back allergies

30,000 B.C. Did allergies exist back then? Well, no one knows for sure. But, it’s certainly likely.

One theory suggests allergies are a leftover survival mechanism used by our immune systems. Those with the strongest immune systems had the allergy mechanism. We roamed basically naked in swampy regions picking up parasites along the way. With civilization, we were less exposed to these parasites. So this response went away in most people.1

But, for some of us it still exists. And, rather than fighting parasites, our immune systems respond to harmless substances like dust mites and pollen. Thus, we suffer from allergies. So, it’s a little different than back then, although more advanced.1

The first reported instance of an allergic reaction?

2640 B.C. Menes was a Pharaoh. Written reports describe how he died after being stung by a wasp. Many historians think this may be the first report of a death caused by anaphylactic shock (allergic reaction).2

400 B.C. Hippocrates lived around this time. He described how some people responded poorly to cheese. It’s possible this may be the first allusion to “allergies” or “food allergies.”3

100-44 B.C. His name was Caesar Augustus. He was a Roman leader. Various writings describe symptoms that may have been allergies and asthma. Various other members of his family also had similar symptoms, suggesting a family link.4

99-55 B.C. So, other people besides rulers suffered from allergies. It’s just that little was written about common folks unless they were famous. Another example of a famous person with allergies is Lucretius, a Roman philosopher. He described food allergies. In fact, he’s the noted author of the famous quote: “What is food to one man is bitter poison to another.”5

10-13 B.C. Claudius was another Roman emperor. Records describe how he suffered from allergy-like symptoms during certain seasons of the year (probably spring). So, he probably had hay fever or seasonal allergies.

41-55 A.D. Speaking of the family link, Claudius had two sons. His eldest son was Brittanicus. Boy, can I empathize with this guy. When exposed to horses his eyes watered and he broke out in a rash. So, he was unable to enjoy many activities with the guys. He was therefore treated unfairly.1

At one point his mom died. His dad (Claudius) remarried. His new wife was named Agrippina the Younger. She had a son named Nero. Claudius adopted him as his younger son. Nero did not suffer from allergies. He was not weak due to allergies. So, when Claudius died, Nero was named emperor of Rome. This was in 54 A.D.1

Nero was famous for his evil treatment of Christians. He threw them in with the lions to be killed. Another evil thing he did was poison his weaker younger brother, who was just a nemesis to him. Such a sad story, I think. What do you think of this treatment for Nero?1

What to make of this?

So, as you can see, allergy symptoms were recognized by ancient people. But, they were dealt with and brushed off as minor ailments — like the common cold today. You sniffled, you sneezed, you maybe wheezed. It certainly affected you. It may make you feel miserable at times. But, you dealt with it on your own. you remained humble.

Still, it may have affected your life, as it certainly affected Brittanicus. And, because of what happened to Brittanicus, you were doubly motivated to keep it to yourself. Besides, there were other more serious maladies to deal with back then, diseases that killed like plagues. Thoughts?

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The Asthma.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

  1. Ehrlich, Paul M., Elizabeth Shimer Bowers, "Living with Allergies," 2009, page 4-6
  2. Veter, Richard S., “Wasp Or Hippopotamus?” Journal of Allergy And Clinical Immunology,” 2000, July, https://www.jacionline.org/article/S0091-6749(00)70299-5/abstract, accessed 2/9/19
  3. 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.
  4. Cantani, "Pediatric Allergy, Asthma and Immunology," 2000, New York, page 724
  5. Heggie, Jon, “A Brief History of Allergies,” National Geographic, 2018, December 3, https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/2018/11/partner-content-brief-history-of-allergies/, accessed 2/9/19

Comments

  • krishwaecosse
    5 months ago

    Very interesting read. I’m going to have to remember some of those facts and share them with my class sometime.

  • Leon Lebowitz, RRT moderator
    5 months ago

    Hi krishwaecosse and thanks for your comment. Glad to hear you’re going to share this material. We appreciate it.
    Leon (site moderator)

  • John Bottrell, RRT moderator author
    5 months ago

    Yes it is interesting to hear these old stories. Very glad you enjoyed them. John. Author/ Site Moderator.

  • Christine.Fitzpatrick moderator
    5 months ago

    We are so glad you enjoyed this article, @krishwaecosse. Thanks for taking the time to comment! Best, Christine, Asthma.net Team Member

  • Shellzoo
    5 months ago

    As I sit here reading your article, I am covered in itchy hives. Nothing so far has calmed them down. Then, I remember I changed laundry detergent recently and now am off to buy the allergy free stuff. It was a fun article to read but I think my hives itch even more now. I am pretty sure as long as there has been ragweed, there have been allergies 🙂

  • John Bottrell, RRT moderator author
    5 months ago

    Agreed. I think allergies have been around a long time. Ever wonder how ancient folks dealt with allergies or hives. I think one remedy was to rub mud over them. John. Author/ Site Moderator.

  • Christine.Fitzpatrick moderator
    5 months ago

    I hope changing your laundry detergent results in your hives clearing up, @shellzoo. Please keep us posted. Thinking of you! Christine, Asthma.net Team Member

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