a stained glass window showing a strawberry in the middle

Pithy History of Allergies: Part 2

Let us continue on our journey through allergy history. Nothing is known about allergies in the primitive world. That’s not to say there weren’t people who suffered from them. But, there were more serious issues to deal with back then, like wars and plagues. You had allergy symptoms you just toughed it out and dealt with it. That’s just how it was for most of history.

Young men, for instance, were expected to participate in whatever the other young men were participating in. If you didn’t you were considered weak and inferior. A good example is my story about Brittanicus in “A Pithy History Of Allergies Part 1.” So, if you suffered from allergies, you kept it to yourself. You toughed it out. Fair? Probably not. But, that’s how it was for most of history.

Some allergy stories from history

Here in part 2, we will delve into another of my favorite allergy stories. This one is about a king who used his allergies to his advantage. We will get to that story in a moment. First, we must talk about an Arabic physician who wrote about his observations.

625-690 A.D.

Paulis Aegineta was an Arabic physician. He wrote about Coryza as inflammation of the nose. He wrote about catarrh as inflammation of the mouth and throat. Both caused drainage. These were early descriptions of what we would call colds or allergies. Back then there was hardly a distinction between the two. Aegineta believed these maladies were caused by too much phlegm in the brain. This phlegm overflowed from the brain to the nasal passages and to the lungs. This was also an ancient theory describing what caused asthma. It’s similar to theories proposed by ancient physicians named Hippocrates and Galen.1

865-924 A.D.

There was a Middle Eastern physician by the name of El-Razi or Rhazes. Well, he WAS a physician. But, he never went to school. He just became a physician by his own studies. He mainly just studied the writings of Hippocrates.

For most of history, there were no studies done. For most of history, medical knowledge was only obtained by personal observations in the clinical settings. Rhazes may have been the first physician to encourage this. He taught that medicine should be taught based on “empirical” evidence from the clinical setting.2

He was a voluminous writer. One of his books was called “Dissertations on the Cause of the Coryza.” Coryza is an old term for inflammation and nasal drainage. It was a symptom, but back then your symptoms were your disease. He described various reasons for what causes coryza. One being exposure to roses in the spring. From this later came the term "rose fever." It was a prelude, of sorts, to what would later be described as hay fever, and eventually “allergies.”2,3

More allergy history

1452-1485 A.D.

Now we must talk about King Henry III. This is one of my favorite allergy stories. Here’s how the story goes.

He had an allergy to strawberries. Keep in mind here that the term “allergy” did not exist until 1906. So, way back in the 1400s, your "allergy" was just a symptom. It was not a disease to be diagnosed. it was just a symptom. It was something that annoyed but was not treated.  And, these “allergy” symptoms occurred when Henry was exposed to strawberries. He was well aware of this. And so, when the opportunity sprung up, he used this to his advantage.4,5

His arch-enemy was William Lord Hastings. He wanted to get rid of his nemesis. He came up with a conniving scheme. What he did was he purposefully ate strawberries. He purposefully created his own allergic symptoms. He showed his symptoms to his medical team. He said they were caused by a curse made upon him by Lord Hastings. For his punishment, Lord Hastings was beheaded. His head was then set on a platter.4,5

The King got away with this because nobody knew about allergies. His staff knew what happened to him when exposed to strawberries. But they didn’t dare say anything to an ignorant populace. So, this is how he got away with killing his adversary. He never was punished during his life, anyway. History vindicated Lord Hastings, hence this story getting out.4,5

What to make of this?

So, there isn’t much written about “allergies” up to the 19th century. What I’ve described so far are just stories that assume allergies. This changed beginning in the 18th century. By the 19th century, the malady had a term. Some called it rose fever. But, the more common term used was hay fever. I'll expound on this in part 3. So, stay tuned.

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