Some would describe allergic disease as "the epidemic of the 21st century".
The prevalence has doubled over the last 20 years. In New Zealand, like most developed
countries, about 40% of the population has the predilection for developing allergies
(are atopic). Paralleling the true increase in allergy is the increased
awareness. Allergy however, is not a new disease.
Perhaps the earliest report of allergic disease is that of King Menses of Egypt,
who was killed by the sting of a wasp at some time between 3640 and 3300 BC. Another
report from ancient history is that of Britannicus, the son of the Roman Emperor
Claudius. He was allergic to horses and "would develop a rash and his eyes
swelled to the extent that he could not see where he was going". Accordingly,
the honour of riding at the head of the young patricians fell to Nero who was Claudiuss
adopted son. Nero allegedly threw Christians to the lions and killed Britannicus.
Sir Thomas More gives the next authoritative account of allergy: King Richard III
used his allergy to strawberries to good effect in arranging the judicial murder
of Lord William Hastings. The King surreptitiously ate some strawberries just prior
to giving an audience to Hastings and promptly developed acute urticaria. He then
accused Hastings of putting a curse on him, an action that demanded the head of
Hastings on a plate.
The Roman philosopher, Lucretius observing exaggerated responses to commonly occurring
substances said "what is food for some may be fierce poisons for others".
However, the modern era of allergy started in the 1800s with the description of