Ask the Past: hayfever

I get terrible hayfever at this time of the year, even though I am maxing out my antihistamine dose. Is there anything else I can do for it?

You might think that hayfever is one of those ailments that people didn't acknowledge until recently, probably because they were too busy worrying about cholera, tuberculosis, and typhoid fever, but as it happens, hayfever (or "rose-cold", as some books will have it) has been around for a while. As William Scheppegrell rather melodramatically put it in a 1919 edition of the Interstate Medical Journal:

To those who have not experienced its sufferings or observed its effects, hayfever appears an insignificant ailment which often forms a convenient object of ridicule. The hayfever victim, however, knows it to be a tragedy, to which pneumonia or typhoid fever, with a prospect of a full recovery or a fatal termination, would be preferable.

It turns out that William Scheppegrell literally wrote the book on hayfever: Hayfever and Asthma: Care, Prevention and Treatment (published 1922). Most of the book is concerned with the plants that cause hayfever, but he does have a chapter on treatment, right after the chapter called 'Hayfever Resorts' which lists all the places in the US you can go to where those plants don't grow. Surprisingly enough, his treatment chapter does mention inhalers, but reading on even slightly, it turns out that he doesn't mean what you think he means:

There are on the market a number of widely advertised inhalers for the prevention of hayfever. The device is inserted into the nostrils, and a fine gauze is supposed to filter the inhaled air free from hayfever pollens. Aside from the question as to whether a mesh with openings of 0.005 cm. prevents the entrance of pollens 0.0015 cm. in diameter, we were unable to find a patient who did not prefer the hayfever to the discomfort of wearing the inhaler.

Although he doesn't recommend the inhalers, he is quite happy to recommend sticking something else up your nose - a nasal massager of his own invention which actually doesn't sound much less unpleasant:

It is operated by compressed air under a pressure of fifty to sixty pounds. The air drives the piston forward and backward in the cylinder, and this imparts a vibratory movement to the nasal applicator. The arrangement is such that the operation of the applicator in the nasal cavity can be observed. Cotton is attached to the end of the applicator, and a 4 per cent solution of iodized phenol in glycerin is applied to the cotton.

It's probably too late for you this year, because apparently "It should be discontinued during the hayfever season, when the mucous membrane is irritated by the atmospheric pollens."

If that doesn't appeal, you could try his recommended formula (although he warns that it "does tend to establish the cocaine habit", so use at your own risk):

Epinephrin sol. 1-1000

2 per cent sol. cocaine

Normal saline solution

If none of these sound convenient, or if you think they'd be best done under Dr Scheppegrell's supervision, there is still hope for you. Harmsworth's Household Encyclopedia suggests a nasal spray as follows:

Boric acid solution 3 gr. to the oz. of water

Hyleigh's Medical and Stock Book also has a couple of home remedies worth trying. The first one is very simple, and you're sure to have the ingredients at home already:

Syringe the nose with salt and milk.

Or, if you want to steer clear of putting things up your nose:

Procure and wear piece of cloudy amber. A sufferer has proved this cure, and strongly recommends it to sufferers.

I'm sure that will help.

A close up picture of a lump of translucent dark yellow amber crystals against a black background. They are very pretty, but it's not clear they would be helpful with your hayfever.
Good for what ails you. Photo by Safwan Thottoli

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