Who discovered hay fever?

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We’ve stumbled across a fascinating bit of hay fever history on the BBC News website, and thought that it would be fun to share it with you. Read the full article here.

So, who discovered hay fever?

In in 1819, a Liverpool born London doctor called John Bostock presented a study to the Medical and Chirurgical Society called ‘Case of a Periodical Affection of the Eyes and Chest’. John Bostock had suffered from stuffiness, catarrh and a general feeling of heaviness, every June since the age of 8. The study was based on himself! Some of the treatments that Bostock subjected himself to included bleeding, cold baths, taking opium and self-induced vomiting. 

Perplexed by the clockwork timing of his symptoms, Bostock set about broadening his research. Bostock had spent his academic career taking special interest in bodily fluids, in particular bile and urine and had decided to use his skills to research the affliction which is now termed as ‘hay fever’.

Over 9 years, Bostock found 28 subjects to study and released a second article in which he christened the condition “catarrhus aestivus” or “summer catarrh”. At this point in time, Bostock was alone in his belief that an event specific to the summer season was causing the dreaded symptoms. The medical establishment did not believe there was a problem. By 1928, an idea had emerged among the public that the reactions were caused by the ‘effluvium’ (smell) from newly formed hay. 

Bostock didn’t agree. He thought a recurring disease, exacerbated by the exhausting heat of summer, was to blame. He rented a clifftop house near Ramsgate, Kent, for three summers in a row, enjoying total rest. His symptoms reduced so much that he “nearly escaped the disease”.

Sea air quickly became a fashionable fix for a number of ailments as many followed Bostock’s example.

The term ‘hay fever’ was first used by The Times in 1827, when it reported that the Duke of Devonshire was “afflicted with what is vulgarly called the Hay-fever, which annually drives him from London to some sea-port”. 

It wasn’t until 1859, when another British scientist named Charles Blackley discovered the true cause of the common summertime affliction. He had sniffed a bouquet of bluegrass and begun sneezing. He cross referenced this with the abundance of grass during the month of June, and from then became convinced that pollen was the route cause.  However, Blackley had still not reached the conclusion of ‘allergy’, he believed that the problem was being caused by poisons in the pollen.

Nearly 200 years on, there has been extensive research into causes and treatments for hay fever, but there’s still a long way to go. For lots of fantastic information on hay fever and other allergies, visit the Allergy UK website.

To check out our Guide to Managing Allergies, click here. (No blood letting or cold baths, we promise!),

To read the full article on the BBC website, click here.







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