Among diseases which are undoubtedly caused by floating matter in the air must be reckoned the well-known malady "hay fever," which is a veritable scourge during the summer months to a certain percentage of persons, who have, probably, a peculiarly sensitive organization to begin with, and are, in a scientific sense, "irritable."
This disease has been most thoroughly and laboriously investigated by Mr. Charles Blackley, of Manchester, who, being himself a martyr to hay fever, spent ten years in investigating the subject, and published the result in 1873, in a small work entitled "Experimental Researches on the Causes and Nature of Catarrhus aestivus (hay fever or hay asthma)."
Mr. Blackley had little difficulty in determining that the cause of his trouble was the pollen of grasses and flowers, and his investigations showed that the pollen of some plants was far more irritating than the pollen of others. The pollen of rye, for example, produced very severe symptoms of catarrh and asthma, when inhaled by the nose or mouth. Mr. Blackley came to the conclusion that the action of the pollen was partly chemical and partly mechanical, and that the full effect was not produced until the outer envelope burst and allowed of the escape of the granular contents.
Having satisfied himself that pollen was capable of producing all the symptoms of hay fever, Mr. Blackley next sought to determine, by a series of experiments, the quantity of pollen found floating in the atmosphere during the prevalence of hay fever, and its relation to the intensity of the symptoms. The amount of pollen was determined by exposing slips of glass, each having an area of a square centimeter, and coated with a sticky mixture of glycerine, water, proof spirit, and a little carbolic acid. Mr. Blackley gives two tables, showing the average number of pollen grains collected in twenty-four hours on one square of glass, between May 28 and August 21, in both a rural and an urban position. The maximum both in town and country was reached on June 28, when in the town 105 pollen grains were deposited, and in the country 880 grains. The number of grains deposited was found to vary much, falling almost to zero during heavy rain and rising to a maximum if the rain were followed by bright sunshine. Mr. Blackley found that the severity of his own symptoms closely corresponded to the number of pollen grains deposited on his glasses. Mr. Blackley devised some very ingenious experiments to determine the number of grains floating in the air at different altitudes.
The experiments were conducted by means of a kite, to which the slips of glass were attached, fixed in an ingenious apparatus, by means of which the surface of the glass was kept covered until a considerable altitude had been reached. Mr. Blackley's first experiment gave as a result that 104 pollen grains were deposited in the glass attached to the kite, while only 10 were deposited on a glass near the ground. This experiment was repeated. Again and again, and always with the same result, there was more pollen in the upper strata of the air than in the lower.
A very interesting experiment was performed at Filey, in June, 1870. A breeze was blowing from the sea, and had been blowing for 12 or 15 hours. Mr. Blackley flew his kite to an elevation of 1,000 feet. The glass attached to the kite was exposed for three hours, and on it there were 80 grains of pollen, whereas a similar glass, exposed at the margin of the water, showed no pollen nor any organic form. Whence came this pollen collected on the upper glass? Probably from Holland or Denmark. Possibly from some point nearer the center of Europe.