Asthma historical perspective

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Editor-In-Chief: C. Michael Gibson, M.S., M.D. [1]; Philip Marcus, M.D., M.P.H. [2] Associate Editor(s)-in-Chief:


Asthma was first mentioned in Homer's Iliad. It was later studied by influential thinkers such as, Hippocrates, Galen, and Moses Maimonides. Asthma treatment methods emerged in the late 1800s.

Historical Perspective

  • The word asthma is derived from the Ancient Greek word aazein, meaning sharp breath.
  • The word first appeared in Homer's Iliad.[1]
  • Hippocrates was the first to use it in reference to a medical condition, in 450 BC and thought the spasms associated with asthma were more likely to occur in tailors, anglers and metalworkers.
  • Six centuries later, Galen wrote much about asthma, noting that it was caused by partial or complete bronchial obstruction.
  • In 1190 AD, Moses Maimonides, an influential medieval rabbi, philosopher, and physician, wrote a treatise on asthma, describing its prevention, diagnosis, and treatment.[2]
  • In the 17th century, Bernardino Ramazzini noted a connection between asthma and organic dust.
  • In the year 1880, Dr. J.B. Berkart used intravenous administration of pilocarpine to treat asthma.[3][4]
  • In the year 1886, F.H. Bosworth F.H. suspected an association between asthma and hay fever.[5]
  • Epinephrine was first referred to in the treatment of asthma in 1905,[6] and for acute asthma in 1910.[7]
  • The use of bronchodilators for the treatment of asthma started in 1901, but it was not until the 1960s that the inflammatory component of asthma was recognized, and anti-inflammatory medications were added to the regimens.
  • During the 1930s–50s, asthma was considered to be one of the holy seven psychosomatic illnesses and suspected a psychological etiology. Among the first papers in modern medicine, the one published in 1873 explained the pathophysiology of the disease,[8] and another paper published in 1872 discussed the treatment of asthma with the author concluding that rubbing the chest with chloroform liniment cured asthma.[9]


  1. Marketos SG, Ballas CN (1982) Bronchial asthma in the medical literature of Greek antiquity. J Asthma 19 (4):263-9. PMID: 6757243
  2. Rosner F (1981) Moses Maimonides' treatise on asthma. Thorax 36 (4):245-51. PMID: 7025335
  3. Berkart JB (1880) The Treatment of Asthma. Br Med J 1 (1016):917-8. PMID: 20749537
  4. Kishikawa K, Namiki A, Miyashita K, Saitoh K (1990) Effects of famotidine and cimetidine on plasma levels of epidurally administered lignocaine. Anaesthesia 45 (9):719-21. PMID: 2240530
  5. Bosworth FH (1886) Hay Fever, Asthma, and Allied Affections. Trans Am Climatol Assoc Meet 2 ():151-70. PMID: 21407325
  6. Doig RL (1905) Epinephrin; Especially in Asthma. Cal State J Med 3 (2):54-5. PMID: 18733372
  7. Matthews C (1910) THE USE OF ADRENALIN IN ACUTE ASTHMA. Br Med J 1 (2564):441. PMID: 20764937
  8. Thorowgood JC (1873) On Bronchial Asthma. Br Med J 2 (673):600. PMID: 20747287
  9. Gaskoin G (1872) On the Treatment of Asthma. Br Med J 1 (587):339. PMID: 20746575

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