The hypodermic syringe gets its name from two words of Greek origin: hypo which means "under", and derma, which means "skin". It is interesting to note that during the past 150 years, the basic design of the hypodermic syringe has not changed very much. The first hypodermic syringes consisted of a cylinder with a movable plunger inside. Notable improvements included the incorporation of a glass piston within the cylinder to prevent leaks and reduce the chance of infection. As plastics developed, they were incorporated into the design to reduce costs and improve safety. Nonetheless, throughout all these years, the basic design, mechanics and manual operation of the manual syringe remained essentially unchanged.
The first known use of a syringe-like device to perform a medical procedure dates back to 900 A.D., when the Egyptian surgeon Ammar ibn Ali al-Mawsili devised a thin, hollow glass tube with suction to remove cataracts from patients eyes. At that time, syringes were only used to remove objects or fluid from humans, not inject them.
In 1650, Blaise Pascal invented the concept of a syringe (not necessarily hypodermic) as an application of what is now called Pascal's Law. Forms of intravenous injection and infusion were used in the early and mid-1830s to treat cholera by the use of intravenous saline, but credit for the invention of the hypodermic syringe for medical purposes goes to Doctor Alexander Wood in 1853.
Dr. Wood, the Secretary of the Royal College of Physicians in Edinburgh, Scotland, is credited with performing the first subcutaneous injections for the relief of pain with a regular syringe, which at the time was used for treating birthmarks, by adding a hollow needle. In 1855 he published a short paper in The Edinburgh Medical and Surgical Review, titled A new method for treating neuralgia by the direct application of opiates to painful points. In the paper, he showed that the method was not necessarily limited to the administration of opiates.
In the late 1800s, a prominent surgeon, Doctor William Halstead applied the use of the hypodermic syringe to dentistry, demonstrating that an interstitial injection of aqueous cocaine resulted in an effective inferior alveolar nerve block; that a small amount of anesthetic injected into the trunk of a sensory nerve resulted in a numbing of pain in all of that nerve's branches. This discovery ushered in a new era of local pain management for both medicine and dentistry.