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Book and Media Reviews
November 14, 2007

Breathing Space: How Allergies Shape Our Lives and Landscapes

Author Affiliations

Book and Media Reviews Section Editor: John L. Zeller, MD, PhD, Contributing Editor.

JAMA. 2007;298(18):2200-2206. doi:10.1001/jama.298.18.2204

In the grand scheme of things, allergies are a relatively new human phenomenon. Allergic disorders, rarely referred to in medical writing prior to the 20th century, have become a modern scourge, and Gregg Mitman's book is a refreshing chronicle of the complex interplay of nature and nurture that have characterized these illnesses.

In the first chapter, Mitman chronicles the rise of the “hay fever holiday.” More recently termed seasonal allergic rhinitis, hay fever in 19th-century United States was just being recognized, although certainly not understood. It was a prestigious condition and considered a disease of the culturally refined, aristocratic classes, perhaps due to the nervous exhaustion that accompanied the rigors of the modern life of leading citizens. Hay fever associations, many of which were exclusive clubs, were popular in the late 1800s. Persons of means escaped the urban “summer catarrh” by vacationing in rural resorts in the White Mountains, near Lake Michigan, and elsewhere. These resorts were famous for catering specifically to people with allergic rhinitis and asthma. As late as 1951, national periodicals still featured hay fever resort destinations. This would change, however, with population spread, development of antihistamines, and a host of other factors.

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