The history of allergies


Although asthma and eczema had been known as clinical conditions since ancient times and hay fever received much attention in the 19th century, they were not seen to have a common cause and shared pathology until the early 1900s. They were first brought together under the term allergy in 1906.

• During the 1920s, allergy clinics were created in hospitals in the United States and western Europe. In 1929, the Journal of Allergy was founded. Throughout the 20th century, the term allergy was applied by doctors and patients to everything from hay fever, asthma, eczema, urticaria, food sensitivities and reactions to cosmetics and other synthetic chemicals.

• In the period after the second World War, the production of drugs to treat allergic diseases grew exponentially. Concurrently, in the cosmetic and cleaning areas, products were developed specifically aimed at reducing allergies (new pillows and duvets were manufactured based on theories that the house dust mite was the primary culprit and non-biological washing powders were developed because of fears of the enzymes used in biological ones). Food labelling also developed with specific ingredient lists and alerts regarding food allergies.

• By 2000, one in five children in Britain were thought to have some kind of allergy.

• One in three people are, at some point in their lives, diagnosed either with an allergic disorder such as asthma, hay fever and eczema or with a food or drug allergy.

• In 2000, every major pharmaceutical company had an anti-allergy product in its top 10 commercial sellers.

• In 2003, the management of allergic diseases in the community accounted for 10 per cent of the primary care prescription budget in Britain.