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Friday, December 12, 2014

2640 B.C.: The first description of allergies?

Figure 1 -- King Menes (circa 2925 B.C.)
About 2,640 years before the birth of Christ, King Menes of Egypt was reported to have died after being stung by a wasp. This might very well be the first account of an allergic reaction.  

The Roman leader Caesar Augustus (100-44 B.C.)is believed to have suffered from seasonal symptoms that might have been allergies and asthma  (1)

Roman Emperor Claudius (10-13 B.C to 54 A.D) is also suspected of having suffered from seasonal allergy symptoms.  His son Brittanicus (41?-55 A.D.) is thought to have suffered from an allergy to horses. Literature describes how exposure to horses made his eyes swell and a rash appear.

Figure 2 -- Prince Nero and Prince Brittanicus

Brittanicus was heir apparent to the throne.  Yet due to his allergies he was limited in what he could do.  And when his mother died, Claudius remarried to Agrippina the Younger.  She had a son named Nero, and Claudius adapted him.  Nero almost immediately won the favor of the public, and Nero ultimately eclipsed his younger brother and was named Emperor in 54 A.D.

Nero became famous for throwing Christians to the Lions.  Yet within only a few months of his reign, he poisoned his weaker, older brother Brittanicus to death.

Ancient Roman physicians were probably the first physicians to recognize allergy symptoms, although they failed to recognize it as anything other than a minor ailment. With limited anatomical wisdom, and deadly diseases in need of their immediate attention, minor ailments like allergies received barely a footnote in ancient literature.

For example, Roman philosopher Lucretius (99-55 B.C.) said, "What is good for some may be fierce poisons for others."  Some speculate speculate this was an allusion to allergies. (2, page 4)

Allergies were again alluded to by the Middle Eastern Physician El-Razi or Rhazes (865-924).  He wrote his observation of redness and swelling of the nasal passages in some of his patients.  Some of his contemporaries observed these symptoms occurred in the presence of roses, referring to it as Rose Fever.

Still, while the condition may have been recognized in a few patients, physicians had little time to spend on such a trifling ailment, especially given there were deadly diseases that needed their attention.

Plus most who suffered from it had too much work to do to let it slow them down. So most who suffered probably just brushed it off as a minor ailment, making the disease barely recognizable by the few men who recorded history.

  1. Cantani, "Pediatric Allergy, Asthma and Immunology," 2000, New York, page 724
  2. Ehrlich, Paul M., Elizabeth Shimer Bowers, "Living with Allergies," 2008

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