Five proofs that allergies aren’t so modern

We’ve heard it before, “They didn’t have allergies in my day…” and I always feel a little like people are saying this and thinking I’m making it up. As if in their day people were healthier and just got on with things.

I do think that many modern influences have caused a rise in allergies including processed food, excessive hygiene and cleanliness, chemicals in buildings and foods, GM crops, stress, drugs, I could go on…

However allergies are not a new phenomenon. They have been around for many hundreds, maybe even thousands of years but they are steadily on the increase.

Here are five proofs that allergies are not so new:

  1. ‘The itch’ is mentioned in the bible in many places and whether you believe its teachings or not, the books were written many thousands of years ago. It’s not new to plagued by itches and sores.
  2. Birds Custard was invented in 1837 by Alfred Bird for his wife, who suffered from a bad allergy to eggs and so couldn’t eat the traditional custards of that time. I wrote about this in a previous blog post, Birds Custard invented because of egg allergy
  3. Dr Bill Frankland is an amazing man, an allergy doctor and still practising as an allergy specialist at the age of 99. He invented the pollen count scale and has been working, researching and treating allergies for his whole career. Read more about Bill in another old blog post, 99 year old allergy specialist doctor nearing 100th birthday and still practising.
  4. Leonard Noon and John Freeman invented immunotherapy in the UK back in the 1900’s yet this often life changing treatment is rarely available on the NHS in the country that invented it. There are some counties where you can get it but it isn’t widely available. If you can afford it you can get the treatment privately, yet in most of Europe and America it’s standard treatment to get your ‘allergy shots’. Read more about this in a previous blog post Bring back immunotherapy for allergies
  5. The earliest known report of an allergy was that of King Menses of Egypt, who died after a wasp sting some time between 3640 and 3300 BC.

I think this is really interesting to know and comforting to hear that it’s not a new thing. It’s been happening for thousands of years with no real worldwide available cure. Looking back at my ancestors health as part of our family tree research we’ve discovered that a few generations back our family had asthma. Back then it would have been a very debilitating condition – I don’t want to imagine my life without inhalers.

Despite all this the world seems to be set on a course of progress which would appear to be making allergies far more common and the reactions people get very severe. Next time people say to you “we didn’t have allergies in our day…” reply by telling them that there were indeed allergies in their day but that they were just very lucky not to have them or know anyone with allergies.

Even now, despite the rise in allergies, awareness and understanding amongst the general population and even GPs and doctors is pretty poor. Perhaps it’s no surprise that even back then, our ancestors would have been being told it was all in their head and facing the same ignorance as we do today.

Just remember. You are not alone, you are not making this up and it is not your fault!

Did you like this? Share it:
About Ruth

Ruth works freelance as a copywriter and writes the What Allergy blog to share information with people who have allergies, eczema, asthma and food intolerances. was voted in the top 5 allergy blogs and Ruth also judges regularly for the FreeFrom Food Awards and FreeFrom Skincare Awards. She also won the Foods You Can People's choice Best FreeFrom blogger award 2014.


  1. My personal opinion is that before modern medicine came along a lot of people with severe allergies would have been marked down with FTT (failure to thrive) as babies, would therefore not had problem foods eliminated from their diet and would perhaps have been malnourished and died in infancy/childhood as a result.

    Certainly our Baby only made progress in the early stages (before she was diagnosed) by almost constant breastfeeding (on demand). My mother thought that I was over feeding her and that that was the cause of her constant diarrhoea!! You can tell the difference in her, in before and after photos – cutting milk out of my diet meant that she put on weight properly.

    It’s sad that there is still so much ignorance about these things, and that mothers of small babies are still having to fight to get diagnosed properly.

    • Yes I totally agree. Kids with coeliac disease were often given the ‘not thriving’ label and it was mums experimenting with cutting foods out, as well as some clever doctors who noticed kids who got better during the war years in the 1940s when bread was scarce improved and got worse again afterwards. As a child I was just given the label ‘atopic’ and told I had eczema and asthma. I now know dairy was causing that but this wasn’t even suggested or considered in those days. Thankfully things are slowly getting better but doctors are still woefully bad at helping mothers. It’s far easier for them to just say, your child doesn’t feed well, or your child just has eczema. There is always a cause for these things – we just need to get better and discovering what it is.

  2. Ruth .. quite correct. Allergies are NOT new. And certainly they have been with mankind since the first breath. As well, you are correct in saying there is a definite increase in both incidents and what seems to be an insane drive to elevate the increase with a constant influx of unregulated chemical production and use.

    Your last paragraph is especially poignant. There is an almost wanton ignorance of the existence of allergen increase in our world. The medical profession seems doggedly determined to evaluate a condition with anything but an allergy label. And we (the citizenry) work overtime to avoid habits that could be related to our ever increasing poor health. Despite what seems to have been a ‘health movement’. That all seems now to have been just another ‘fad’.

    However, it’s not so difficult to understand HOW this happened or why.

    First there is the greed factor. The fashion industry wants to make big profits off it’s cosmetic lines. Goodness knows it’s not going to be from their fashion clothes! The industrial sector wants to make profits off recycling toxic by-products (fluoride among many others!). They aren’t going to let a few deaths from toxic exposure slow down their chemical advancements. Now are they? And of course, we cannot overlook the agriculture industry as it seeks to control all aspects of food: root or hoof based. Nor anything that slithers on land, air or water. Eating and dying – something the moneymongers can bank on.

    Then we have an ever shrinking level of curiosity by the general public. We just, “… don’t have time…”, anymore to keep up on all that ‘science and medical stuff’. We have far too many other important things to do: TV, Social Media, gossip, sports .. why, just name it!! People are just out-of-it-today when it comes to increasing workable knowledge. I feel, it’s in large part due to the foods we eat, the liquids we drink and the lifestyles we live. None of them do not nourish our bodies and most actually offer even more harm to our faculties of intelligence and cognition! We are simply letting others poison us and reduce us to drivel for their own rewards.

    So… how else could this play act itself out? We are in serious trouble. This is not a bonkers Chicken-Littleism either. It’s quite real. I hate to say it, but the salvation of humanity may well need to be preceded by a major, society-altering-cataclysmic-event…. !

    Humanity is asleep-at-the-wheel and veering toward the on-coming traffic. We’d better wake-up … and SOON!

    • Thank you for such a well thought out and brilliant response to this blog post. It really sums up the helplessness I feel. I think my friends think I’m eccentric as I strive to live my own life with as little damage and as much positive effect as I can, but why isn’t everyone else scared about this? I am terrified. Look at the ‘progress’ or change we’ve seen in just our short lifetime. Is much of it for the good? When I was a child I remember getting our first TV. Phones had circular dials, noone had a mobile phone and we spent most of out time outside on good days, or inside reading on rainy days. It’s as if the world has lost that connection with nature, the land, the animals, the plants, ourselves. Whether einstein said this or not, “If the bee disappears from the surface of the earth, man would have no more than four years to live.” if it’s true we have something serious to worry about. Bee numbers are plumeting as are the numbers of wild flowers, small birds, butterflys and other small insects. I haven’t seen a single wasp this year (not that I miss THEM, though they do have vital role to play in eating bugs and aphids etc.). Electro smog is rising and noone really knows the long term effect of such huge exposure to constant exposure. it really saddens me. WAKE UP PEOPLE – WE HAVE TO ACT NOW!

      I say act now, but I really am at a loss as to how to make much of a difference. My small efforts seem like a drop in the ocean. I think you are right. It will take a MASSIVE and SHOCKING event to make everyone take notice. It will either need to effect their lives in a BIG way or their pocket. If fuel supply companies charged more for the resources we used people would have to use less though that would be very controversial and measures would need to be put into place to protect those who are vulnerable like the elderly and out of work. What can we do? How can we halt this dreadful journey we are on towards destruction?

  3. Hi Ruth

    Can you explain the link(s) between GM crops and allergies please?

    • Hi Keene. I’ll tell you what I THINK, but I’m no scientist. In the 1970s when farmers began to farm intensively and pesticides began to be used widely, and some, now banned, on a huge scale, I was born. Is it any coincidence that I lived in the countryside and I got eczema, allergies, hayfever, asthma in a big way. Now I’m just a sensitive type. Yes, probably, but as the years go by you cannot deny that there is a decline in the number of bees, insects, birds etc. The link, I think, is that the pesticides are bad for the insects and bees which pollinate crops, which then passes to the birds and animals which eat them. So we invent GM Crops. But farmers still spray them, with fertilisers and pest control chemicals. These are resistent to pests, grow better, stronger and need less pesticides. On the face of it this sounds better, but the number of insects is still on a steady, increasing and alarming downward spiral. The number of wild flowers too. Is this because they are coming into contact with pollen from GM crops? Is it the weather changes due to global warming? Is the chemicals that farmers still need to use, are all crops becoming infiltrated with GM varieties due to polination and the wind carrying pollen as well as insects etc. It is all fuelled by our greed and need for more – yet our supermarkets can still afford to throw out and destroy huge amounds of food that is not bought before it goes off and we in turn also buy too much and throw that out. Waste on a huge scale, but I fear I am now heading for another rant…

      I don’t know the answer, I just know that meddling with humans to create clones, better, more atractive cleverer humans would be unethical and dangerous. Yet we think it’s fine to do the same with the food we eat with no understanding, tests or knowledge of the effect this will have on our health, digestion, reproduction etc. I’m not sure if I’ve explained it very well, but we know that people with allergies have a faulty IgE cell in their white blood cells which alerts the body to an intruder. This should only really happen when there is real danger such as infection or a virus but with someone who has allergies, the white blood cell armies come out in massive force against the humble peanut, milk protein or egg when consumed.

      I know that my allergies change and can be worse when I’m under stress. I think GM crops and chemicals on our food are just one of the causes of excess stress on the body. It’s not made to digest and process some of the crap that goes into processed food, so some of our bodies develop drastic measures to stop us from eating certain things. I am almost thankful that my body has challenged me in this way because I can’t eat any processed foods without problems. My body knows what’s good for and what’s bad it – for a lazy so-and-so like me it needed drastic measures to get me to sit up and listen.

      I also think that GM food contain less nutrients, vitamins and minerals. The soil too is depleted by the use of pesticides, excessive farming and rain washing them away. We’re not putting them back into the soil, fields are rarely left fallow, so the food we eat contains less and less goodness. Ever eaten food that tastes of nothing? Then eaten it fresh from your garden – the taste difference is incomparable.

      I KNOW from my own experience that when I eat fresh, natural, local, organic food all of my allergy, eczema, asthma etc. problems lessen. They don’t go away, but maybe they would if I could get away from all the external irritants everywhere in building materials, furniture, clothes, food, electro smog. It’s everywhere. What do you think? Any of this making sense? Again, I stress, I’m no expert, this is just my own thoughts gleaned from own research. Hey I might be completely wrong. Maybe it would be perfectly alright to live in a world with no insects, no bees, no birds or wild animals, no noise except the contstant thrum of cars and electrical devices monitoring our every move, our food, gentically modified and perhaps just pills containing all the goodness we need. YOu think this sounds like Big Brother, 1988 and all just hype and paranoia? I hope you’re right but I fear you may be wrong if you think GM is good in the long run and the other things? they’re all already happening.

      • Thanks for the comprehensive treatment of my innocent question. I’m not implying GM is good or bad.

        On a lighter note, you mention meddling with humans; what about humans who are meddling (at the Olympic Games)? Now that winds me up! I’m not keen(e) on “Team GB” either.

        • Apologies if your comment inspired a rant and you’re right, you didn’t suggest you had any views either way. I’d be interested to hear what you do think on the GM crops debate. Are you concerned? Do you think they could be causing health problems? and wider concerns about wildlife? or do eat them with wild, gay abandon?

          I also agree wholeheartedly with your comment about meddling. None of the commentors ever expand on what these athletes are meddling with. I think we should demand to know. They are not giving us the whole truth. We frown on the use of drugs, so what should we all think about all this blatant meddling? Very funny. I hate the wrong use of words but I fear the new use of the nouns ‘medal’ and ‘podium’ are now here to stay. I cringe every time I hear an athlete say they hope to ‘medal’ or to ‘podium’ which is even worse. To Podium sounds like something different altogether. What is the world coming to?

  4. Just found an article on Science Daily which might be interesting to this debate. Biodersity loss may cause increase in allergies and asthma –

  5. Ruth .. pleased you found my earlier response cogently appropriate. I will have more to say on the topics you address … and on the GM question: there is more to it than your illustrated frustration/fear points out. More that will explain for Keene, WHY – you are so frightened of the possibilities. And as well some ‘other’ offerings. I am in a crunch for time now .. will get back ASAP (day or so). Just wanted to drop a quick note to thank you for your comments.

    ‘Til later – YOSAKIME

Speak Your Mind


Time limit is exhausted. Please reload CAPTCHA.