Roman doctors described asthma as gasping and the inability to breathe without making noise. They noted “if from running or any other work, the breath becomes difficult, it is called asthma.” Pliny the elder (~ 50 AD) observed that pollen was a source of respiratory difficulty and recommended the use of “ephedra” (forerunner of ephedrine) in red wine as an asthma remedy. Unfortunately, he also suggested that drinking the blood of wild horses and eating 21 millipedes soaked in honey could help.
The Talmud (200-500 AD) counseled “drinking three weights of hiltith,” a resin of the carrot family as a therapy for asthma. Maimonides (1135-1204 AD), Jewish scholar and Saladin’s physician treated the Egyptian’s son for asthma. His “Treatise on Asthma” prescribed rest, good personal hygiene and environment, avoidance of opium, a small quantity of wine and a special diet. Nuts, fruit, milk, cool vegetables and legumes (peanuts are a member of this family) were forbidden, while “The soup of fat hens” was considered beneficial.
Tobacco in the 1500’s, was used to induce coughing and expectorate mucus. In Central America, Aztecs ingested an ephedra containing plant to clear mucus and, in South America, Incas treated asthma with a cocaine-like dried leaf. In the 1800’s, Arsenic was prescribed for respiratory conditions. In the early 1900’s, allergy immunotherapy was first introduced to treat asthma.
Asthma medicines of the 1940’s and 1950’s consisted of epinephrine injections (adrenaline) and aminophylline tablets or suppositories. In the 1960’s oral combinations were the staples of chronic therapy. Oral prednisone was and continues to be prescribed for severe disease.
Since the Allergy and Asthma Medical Group & Research Center was founded in 1969, many therapeutic advances have occurred. Our clinical research department is currently actively evaluating new asthma therapies that promise to further benefit patients.
Though asthma has been a known entity for over two and a half millennia, nearly 25 million people in the United States still suffer from it. However, we have come a long way in understanding its causes and in our ability to treat and control it. We pledge to continue to give our best efforts to expertly and compassionately care for our patients with asthma.