9 Terrifying Medical Treatments from 1900 and Their Safer Modern Versions

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The next time you have to endure a boring stay in a doctor’s waiting room, be thankful you don’t live in the early 20th century. Even as medicine was rapidly improving, these downright scary or dangerous treatments were still lingering.

1. Radium Water

Before radioactivity was fully understood, naturally occurring radium was lauded for its seemingly otherworldly benefits. Water was kept in radium-laced buckets, and people would drink the tainted liquid to cure everything from arthritis to impotence. Of course, this was an awful idea, and when people started to drop dead from this miracle water, the connection was made. Now, non-radioactive prescription drugs are used to combat arthritis and impotence.

2. Ecraseur

This obsolete tool had a chain loop that the doctor would tighten around a cyst or hemorrhoid. This constriction would rob the area of blood flow, which would cause the offending lump to fall off. In modern medical offices, creams are used to ease hemorrhoids away, while more delicate surgery is most often used to remove cysts.

3. Plombage

Plombage was a risky early 20th century treatment for tuberculosis in which a surgeon would create a cavity in a patient’s lower lung and fill it with a foreign material such as lucite balls. This procedure would make the upper, infected lung collapse. The theory maintained that a collapsed lung would eventually heal itself. Thanks to modern vaccines, TB has been largely eradicated throughout much of the developed world, although it is far from completely eliminated globally.

4. Peg Legs

Before the advent of advanced prosthetics, wooden pegs had to be jammed into the hollowed-out cavities of an amputee’s leg or strapped to the patient’s waist. The device would be shaped and carved to the correct height, and occasionally the fit was perfect. Some recipients of the procedure were able to walk for miles without noticing discomfort. Still, they were no match for modern prostheses.

5. Gasoline to Cure Lice

In the early 20th century, a patient with a bad case of head lice would douse his or her dome with gasoline or kerosene in an effort to rid their scalp of the unwanted guests. While this treatment may have been somewhat effective, it was also incredibly dangerous to anyone who walked near an open flame. Modern medicine can solve the infestation much more safely with medicated shampoo.

6. Morphine for Teething

Any parent can understand the necessity of soothing a teething baby’s pain, but even into the 20th century some moms and dads were taking incredibly risky or downright dangerous steps to help their tots. In addition to lancing (cutting the gums to give the new teeth a clear pathway to emerge), parents gave children morphine syrups to ease their crying and dusted their gums with powders that contained deadly mercury. Modern parents are luckier and can use non-toxic pain relievers or chilled teething toys.

7. Mercury for Syphilis

For most of history, a syphilis diagnosis was incredibly grim news, and at the turn of the 20th century, most doctors’ best treatment involved administering toxic mercury to the patient indefinitely, giving rise to a popular quip about lovers spending “one night with Venus, a lifetime with Mercury.” Even as medical knowledge improved in the early 1900s, treatments still involved dire measures like taking arsenic or deliberately inoculating the patient with malaria, which would raise the body temperature and kill the syphilis. Thankfully, these scary treatments all went out the window with the introduction of penicillin in 1943.

8. Starvation Diets for Aneurysms

Doctors sought to treat early 20th century aneurysms by diminishing the force with which the heart pumped. One of the questionable regimens used to achieve this goal was known as Tuffnell’s diet, which consisted of bed rest and meager, dry rations. A 1901 medical text spelled out the treatment’s daily menus: Two ounces of bread and butter with two ounces of milk for breakfast, three ounces of meat and four ounces of milk or red wine for lunch, and two ounces of bread with two ounces of milk for dinner. Today many cases can be treated with minimally invasive surgeries.

9. Hydroelectric Baths for Migraines

Taking the toaster into the bathtub may be fatal today, but for several decades starting in the late 19th century, some doctors recommended treating chronic migraines by lounging in a hydroelectric bath – a warm tub with a small current passing through the water. Doctors eventually became skeptical of this method, and today’s migraine sufferers can turn to more effective pharmaceutical treatments.

Illinois Becomes the First State to Require Insurance Companies to Cover EpiPens for Kids

Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Joe Raedle/Getty Images

The ever-changing landscape of the U.S. healthcare system has created difficulties for people who may no longer be able to afford potentially lifesaving medications like EpiPens. The Illinois government decided it was time to step in: Beginning on January 1, 2020, health insurance companies will be required to cover EpiPen costs for children in the state with severe allergic reactions. Tonya Winders, president and CEO of the Allergy & Asthma Network, told CNN that Illinois is the first state to pass such legislation.

CNN reports that Governor J.B. Pritzker officially signed the law, House Bill 3435, which mandates insurance coverage “for epinephrine injectors for persons 18 years of age or under.” Pritzker also tweeted that “this legislation takes a big step forward in protecting our children and families.” Illinois Senator Julie Morrison, who sponsored the initial proposal, echoed the governor’s sentiment in her own statement.

“We should be doing everything we can to expand access to affordable lifesaving drugs and medicines,” Morrison said. “No child with a serious allergy should be without an epinephrine injector because they cannot afford one.”

In 2009, the purchase of two EpiPens would have set you back about $100; by 2016, that number had skyrocketed to $600. During that time, the situation became so dire that some people were opting to fill their own syringes with epinephrine instead, making it more difficult to measure the dose and also administer the injection. Thankfully, the FDA approved a generic version of the EpiPen last year, providing market competition for pharmaceutical company Mylan, which has been manufacturing EpiPens thus far.

EpiPens work by injecting a high dose of epinephrine, or adrenaline, into your bloodstream, which reduces the rapid swelling of your airways during anaphylactic shock. Since allergic reactions can happen so quickly, your life could be seriously threatened if you don’t have an EpiPen nearby at the time of the attack. Wondering what anaphylactic shock looks like from the inside? Find out here.

[h/t CNN]

Marathon Karaoke Session Lands Man in Hospital With a Collapsed Lung

cookelma/iStock via Getty Images
cookelma/iStock via Getty Images

While over-imbibing is the usual culprit behind a fun night out gone wrong, it turns out that too much karaoke can be bad for your health, too. According to Newsweek, a 65-year-old man from eastern China was hospitalized with a collapsed lung after singing 10 high-pitched karaoke songs in a row.

“I was very excited in the heat of the moment and after singing a few songs with very high notes, I found myself having breathing difficulties,” the man, who was identified only by his last name, Wang, said in a video posted to the Chinese platform PearVideo.

Since Wang had belted out the same tunes plenty of times before, he decided to ignore the pain that he felt in his left lung as he was performing and simply sing through it. After his condition worsened over the next day, Wang was taken to the hospital.

In the same video, Dr. Peng Bin-fei confirmed that the injury was most likely a direct result of the man’s energetic commitment to hitting the high notes, and advised that karaoke enthusiasts should limit their performances to a maximum of two hours. (For everyone's sake.)

A collapsed lung, or pneumothorax, happens “when air leaks into the space between your lung and chest wall. This air pushes on the outside of your lung and makes it collapse,” according to the Mayo Clinic. Medical professionals can suck out the air with a needle or small tube, but the condition can be life-threatening.

Since sometimes a pneumothorax can occur on its own, it’s always a good idea to seek medical attention if you suddenly experience uncharacteristic chest pain or shortness of breath. Often, it’s the result of a blunt-force injury to the chest or damage from a lung disease. Newsweek mentioned a recent pneumothorax case that was caused by yet another perhaps unexpected culprit: electronic cigarettes. Doctors found black spots and a hole in the collapsed lung of a Florida teenager.

Unlike electronic cigarettes, there’s no compelling reason to quit karaoke altogether, as long as you’re doing it safely. But if you feel like your lungs are straining against that High C, maybe pass the microphone off to the nearest soprano.

[h/t Newsweek]

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