While everyone is ramping up for cherry blossom season in Japan, I’m dreading itchy eyes and uncontrollable sneezing. Hay fever season—a.k.a. seasonal allergies—is upon us already. Thanks to the gift that keeps on giving—a.k.a. climate change—early starts for hay fever in Japan have become the norm.
With roughly 25% of the population suffering from hay fever, this means that a quarter of the country is already out for the count with sore throats and awful headaches. Now that the coronavirus is a thing in Japan, coughing or sneezing on a crowded train looks super suspect. As people give you the side-eye, you may find yourself wanting to proclaim, “I promise I don’t have the virus, just allergies!”
If you find yourself legitimately wondering whether gouging out your own eyes with a spoon might offer some relief, put down that utensil and check out these Japanese hacks for soothing symptoms of a borderline epidemic. Necessity is the mother of invention, after all.
1. Buy pollen protection glasses
You can buy special pollen protection glasses, known as kafun megane (花粉メガネ) in Japanese, from as little as ¥100 from cheap stores like Daiso. They are kind of goofy and look a bit like the safety goggles I used to wear for science class but they do work. The solid plastic sits against your eyes and protects any pollen particles in the air from getting behind the lenses. Wearing kafun megane also stops you from rubbing your eyes if they are itchy—one of the worst things you can do if you have hay fever. I repeat. DO. NOT. RUB.
2. Wear a PM 2.5-protective mask
Since pollen particles are a bit bigger than viruses or bacteria, masks can actually help to stop you from breathing them in. The PM 2.5-type masks (PM2.5 超快適マスク) are known to be especially good for pollen and can be picked up at a regular drug store like Tomods or Matsumoto Kiyoshi. “PM” stands for particulate matter and this 2.5 type is generally recommended by health organizations for those living in cities like Beijing, where levels of pollution regularly reach beyond indexable levels. Pollen. Pollution. Basically, two things you don’t want to be breathing in too much. Plus, a mask also helps with other things like not having to interact with people face to face when you want to scratch your throat with a chainsaw.
3. Get prescription antihistamines
While you can buy over the counter brands such as アレグラ (Allegra), アレジオン (Alesion), タリオン(Talion), and ジ ルテック (Zyrtec ), for the really good stuff you’ll have to head over to an Ear, Nose, and Throat Clinic or Jibiinkouka (耳鼻咽喉科) in Japanese.
Japanese doctors prescribe a variety of antihistamine brands. The type that I take is フエキソフエナジン (Fexofenadine). It’s a powerful one but unfortunately not as powerful in Japan as it is in the UK. The maximum Japanese dose for this medicine is 120mg but I used to receive 180mg. For those of you who also have this issue don’t worry, there are ways around it. If you have the prescription for a larger dose from your home country a doctor can sometimes give you that amount. What I do is ask my doctor for steroids along with the antihistamines to give them a boost.
4. Use an anti-allergen spray
As a sufferer of allergies, I was surprised I had not heard of these before coming to Japan. These sprays boast the ability to nullify anything you are allergic to in the air. They can tackle pollen, dust mites, animal hair and more. You can spray this on furniture, clothes, and just generally around the house. UYEKIダニ剤をスプレー消臭 (allergy spray) is Japan’s best-selling brand and is rated highly on Amazon. It is mostly used to repel dust mites but claims to be capable of destroying any allergens. This is a product I am definitely going to try this year.
5. Get a pollen protection bag
Most Japanese houses don’t have a dryer. Instead, you hang your clothes outside. However, in spring this means that they end up covered in a thin layer of pollen that you then end up carrying around everywhere with you. Thankfully, Japanese companies have cleverly thought of a way to fight this with the pollen protection bag (花粉ガード ふとん干し袋). It’s really just as simple as it sounds—a bag that can protect your clothes from pollen whilst they dry outside. They are largely for futons but the covers are big enough to hide all sorts of clothes beneath.
6. Invest in an air purifier
Air purifiers (空気清浄機 in Japanese) here are very efficient and easy to come by. They can cost as little as ¥6,000 and are great for removing pollen from inside your house. Just place the purifier near a door and direct a fan towards it, then all of the air should be filtered through this wonderful little machine. If you change the bag regularly then the air should be pollen-free and safe to breathe. You’ll have your own little bubble away from the toxic pollen-filled world and never have to leave again. See you in September!
Have you got any tips you swear by for combating hay fever in Japan? Let us know in the comments!