In the cure of diseases by refrigeration, cold air is the readiest substitute for cold water.
In the higher latitudes Nature supplies the remedy free of cost for six months of each year, and intermittently hundreds of times even in midsummer and at the threshold of the tropics, for the reduction of temperature in the early morning hours generally suffices to restore the functional vigor of the jaded organism.
The remedial effect of cold air equals that of cold water; air-cures, indeed, offer the advantage of superior facility of application for the cure of respiratory disorders. Expurgative currents of cold air can be made to reach the tissue of the lungs, and the significance of that circumstance is commensurate with the prevalence of a delusion more mischievous than the drug-superstition, vis.: the current theories concerning the cause of catarrh and consumption. “Consumption,” says an advocate of medical reform, “is a house-disease, and the plan of confining its victim in overheated, ill-ventilated sickrooms favors the development of its germs to a degree which the remedial powers of Nature strive in vain to counteract.
Not drugs or warmth, but cold, pure air is Nature’s specific for the cure of consumption and ‘colds.'” That ‘colds,’ or catarrhal affections, are so very common—so much, indeed, as to be considerably more frequent than all other diseases taken together—is mainly due to the fact that the cause of no other disorder of the human organism is so generally misunderstood. Few persons have recognized the origin of yellow fever; about the primary cause of asthma we are yet all in the dark; but in regard to “colds” alone the prevailing misconception of the 32 truth has reached the degree of mistaking the cause for a cure, and the most effective cure for the cause of the disease.
Dr. Charles Page carries first hand testimony
“I have, upon the approach of cold weather, removed my undergarments,” says Dr. Charles Page, “and have then attended to my outdoor affairs, minus the overcoat habitually worn; I have slept in winter in a current blowing directly about my head and shoulders; upon going to bed, I have sat in a strong current, entirely nude, for a quarter of an hour, on a very damp, cold night, in the fall of the year. These and similar experiments I have made repeatedly, and have never been able to catch cold. I became cold, sometimes quite cold, and became warm again, that is all.
About the comparative advantages of dry and moist (“marine”) climates opinions are divided, with a preponderance of argument in favor of the former, but so much is certain that for the cure of lung-complaints a low temperature, with or without an excess of atmospheric moisture, is preferable to the perennial heat of the tropics. “I shall not attempt to explain,” says Benjamin Franklin, “why damp clothes occasion colds, rather than wet ones, because I doubt the fact; I believe that neither the one nor the other contributes to this effect, and that the causes of catarrhs are totally independent of wet, and even of cold.”
Pure cold air is also a sovereign remedy for digestive disorders. The assimilative capacity of the human organism increases with the distance from the equator. An Esquimaux can digest a quantum of food that would crapulate three Hottentots and six Hindus. Camping in the open air whets the appetite even without the aid of active exercise. A bracing temperature exacts a sort of automatic exercise: It accelerates the circulation, it promotes the oxidation of the blood, and stimulates the whole respiratory process. The generation of animal caloric has to be increased to balance the depression of the external temperature. Hence the invigorating effect of mountain air and of sea voyages.
The first dose of the tonic can be applied in-doors by gymnastics in the ancient sense of the word that implies exercise in a state of nudity (“gymnos,” in Greek, meaning simply “naked”)—a few minutes’ pause between undress and bedtime. People who have got rid of the night-air superstition can almost defy dyspepsia by sleeping in a cross-draught, or in cold weather at least near a half-open window. Cold, fresh air is an invaluable aid to the assimilation of nonnitrogenous articles of food (fat meat, butter, etc.). Stifling bedrooms neutralize the effects of outdoor exercise.
The efficacy of an air-bath as a cure of insomnia is suggested by the hypnotic influence of refrigeration. At least a dozen different species of our North American mammals get drowsy enough in cold weather to go to sleep about the end of November and postpone their awakening till spring. We sleep sounder in winter than at any other time of the year, and Dr. Franklin, who, like Bacon and Goethe, had the gift of anticipative intuitions, recommends air baths as an excellent substitutes for opiates.
“In summer-nights, when I court sleep in vain,” he says, “I often get up and sit at the open window or at the foot of my bed, stark-naked for a quarter of an hour. That simple expedient removes the difficulty (whatever its cause), and upon returning to bed I can generally rely upon getting two or three hours of most refreshing sleep.”