HEALTH, PAIN AND
WEATHER.

AN HISTORICAL BACKGROUND.

Around 440 BC, in the classical Roman age, Hippocrates wrote about the effect of hot and cold winds on people and the possible connection between epidemics and weather conditions. Further on in history ideas about weather and health relationships, including herbal treatments to alleviate the resulting problems, were denigrated as folk medicine and lacking any scientific basis.

Not until late in the 19 th Century did medical science begin experiments which led to a revival of the earlier interest in weather-health connections. An 1877 article in "The American Journal of Medical Sciences" by Dr. S Weir Mitchell, a Philadelphia doctor, on "The Relation of Pain to Weather" related the onset and degree of pain recorded in a log by a Union Captain. This officer had a leg amputated following a Civil War injury and he observed that pain began as pressures fell and humidity and temperatures rose. These are conditions normally associated with approaching storms. The officer noted that his pain continued until the humidity levels began to fall and pressures rose as the storm departed.

Biometeorology, as a new science developed in the second half of the 20 th Century. This science studies the effect of weather on life/health and is interdisciplinary, involving plants, humans and all other animals. "Bios" (Greek) means life and "meteoros", also Greek, means "the study of phenomena up above" and so "weather phenomena in the atmosphere". The impetus for this new science was a study involving the experiences of Claus Thurkow, a World War II German soldier, who lost an arm in 1945 following a heavy shrapnel injury. Like the American Civil War officer, Thurkow also kept a detailed log of the onset, degree and duration of pain for five years. Simultaneously Otto Hollich, a Hamburg University Ph.D. meteorology student, tracked the daily weather using the kind of sophisticated statistical methods that had not been possible in Weir Mitchell's study. However the results were very similar. It was noted that Thurkow's pain began when the pressure fell and humidity rose, signs of an approaching storm. This research also showed that the pain continued until the storm and the accompanying cold front passed and pressures began to rise, and humidity and temperatures to fall.

As a result of further controlled studies this pain and weather relationship is now much more established. Around 1960 Dr Joseph Hollander of the University of Pennsylvania made a series of studies on a group of arthritic patients. The test took place in a tall, windowless chamber with a controlled climate. Nobody could see what the weather was like outside. In a significant number of cases patients were able to detect a rise in the level of humidity and falls in barometric pressure from the unpleasant feelings in their joints. He showed that rapid changes in barometric pressure and humidity occurring within 6-12 hours caused a greater increase in rheumatoid arthritis symptoms than slower changes occurring over 24 hours. Hollander concluded that "when a cold front moves in, the barometric pressure falls and humidity rises, causing pain and joint stiffness in some people with arthritis". The test included only a dozen people, so there was the possibility of a fluke in the observations but a Dutch experiment conducted later supported Hollander's claim.

Research has established relationships between many ailments and the behaviour of disorders and weather conditions. The Germans took a world lead in this discipline. There Biomet has been integrated into the weather forecasts and the country's meteorological service provides daily advice to hospitals, doctors and clinics about which ailments may be aggravated by anticipated weather conditions.