Allergy has been described as the epidemic of the 21st Century because many reports show that the number of people who suffer from allergies has doubled over the past 20 years. But allergies are anything but a new phenomenon.
The earliest report of allergy involved King Menses of Egypt who was killed between 3640 and 3300 BC by the sting of a wasp. The son of the Roman Emperor Brittanicus was known to be allergic to horses. Sir Thomas More mentioned that King Richard III made use of his allergy to demand the killing of Lord William Hastings on the accusation that Hastings put a curse on him.
The modern era of allergy began in the 1800s when Dr. John Bostock first described hay fever in 1819. Hay fever refers to seasonal allergic rhinitis, the most common form of allergy. The malady has nothing to do with hay. Rather, its symptoms seemed to peak at the same time of year that farmers traditionally harvested hay.
In 1869, Charles Blakely conducted the first ever skin test by applying some pollen to a small cut in his skin. He introduced the idea that sensitivity to pollen is the cause of hay fever. The skin test today has advanced significantly, but it still adheres to its foundational principles.
Charles Richet and Paul Portier invented the term “anaphylaxis” in 1902. They discovered the life-threatening response of some individuals to medications and protein substances.
In 1906, Clemens von Pirquet, an Austrian pediatrician, first used the word “allergy” in describing the non-disease related symptoms that some patients exhibited when treated with an antitoxin. In 1911 to 1914, John Freeman and Leonard Noon established the basis for immunotherapy shots.
Daniel Bovet synthesized the first antihistamine in 1937. Philip Hench and Edward Kendall discovered and introduced the use of corticosteroids in the treatment of allergies. In 1953, James F. Riley and Geoffrey B. West found that the major source of histamine in the body is the mast cell granules. This research helped shed light on inflammation and allergic reactions.
Kimishige and Teruko Ishizaka discovered the role of IgE class antibodies in allergic reactions. This shed light on the first step in the sensitization of the tissues affected by the allergen.
In 1982, Professor Bengt Samuelsson was awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine for his research that identified leukotrienes as the lipid mediators that affect the pathogenesis of inflammation.
One discovery has lead to the next, and the cumulative result is that physicians have more information than ever as they aim to diminish the miserable, and sometimes perilous, effects of allergies in our lives.