Since around 3,000 BC, doctors have been using a wide variety of methods to prevent and treat asthma. Some of the suggested treatments over the years are not only ineffective, but harmful. Other treatments likely were effective, although not as good as the nebulizers and inhalers we use today.
We now know that tobacco smokes irritates one’s airways, and that kids who are regularly exposed to second hand smoke have an increased risk of developing asthma. But back in the 1800s, doctors actually recommended children smoke cigarettes to help them deal with their asthma.
In the 1800s, doctors believed people were more likely to have an asthma attack if they were sleepy. Therefore, they thought taking stimulants would prevent asthma attacks. One such stimulant doctors recommended was marijuana. However, marijuana smoke, like tobacco smoke, is an asthma irritant.
In the past, doctors believed alcohol could stimulant one’s nervous system and stop an asthma attack. We now know that alcohol is a potential asthma trigger and dries out airways, making asthma attacks even worse.
Potentially Effective Treatments
Doctors recommended coffee for the same reason they recommended marijuana-- to decrease sleepiness which they believed would decrease the likelihood of an asthma attack. But unlike marijuana, coffee actually can ease asthma symptoms. It contains methylxanthine, a bronchodilator, and does not create any irritating smoke.
Ancient Egyptian Nebulizer
The ancient Egyptians invented a device for inhaling medicines to help ease asthma. It sounds a bit like an ancient nebulizer. According to the Ebers Papyrus, “Thou shalt fetch seven stones and heat them by fire. Thou shalt take one thereof and place a little of these remedies on it and cover it with a new vessel whose bottom is perforated, and place a stalk of reed in this hole. Thou shalt put thy mouth to this stalk, so that thou inhalest the smoke of it. Likewise with all stones.”
Unlike modern nebulizers, this method creates smoke which is an asthma irritant. However, the concept of making medicine inhalable so one can breathe it in is great, and still helps asthma sufferers today.