Hay fever, Japan’s hidden enemy. While Sakura is often the most talked about the season in the spring, equally as ubiquitous among Japanese spring is “kafunsho”.
Kafunsho, meaning pollen sickness, (also called Hay Fever in English) is in a family of seasonal allergies that reacts to pollen in the air.
When is the hay fever season in Japan?
Pollen season is a difficult thing to measure exactly but generally begins in full force from mid-March to late April, though this changes sometimes depending on weather conditions. Some exhibit symptoms at even the smallest trace of pollen– indeed my own father is usually sniffling from New Years to Easter.
The difficult thing about Hay Fever is that unlike dust mites or mold spores, the pollen is everywhere: in the air, on the ground, and in your clothes.
Do cherry blossoms have pollen?
The good news is that Sakura doesn’t have pollen! You can bring the blossoms right up to your nose without any worries. The pollen Japan worries about comes from the Japanese cedar and cypress trees, which were planted en masse during reforestation efforts post WWII.
This is such a common illness that during hay fever season in Japan, hourly pollen counts are displayed on all morning news shows along with the weather information. Some people’s allergic reactions to the pollen can be so bad that on high pollen days, the best solution is just staying at home.
How do I know if I have hay fever?
Hay Fever Symptoms are often characterized by a runny nose, itchy red eyes, and fatigue[NOTE: It’s important that you not mistake COVID-19 symptoms for Hay Fever. If you have a pollen allergy in Japan, you should NOT have a fever. If you are experiencing a sore throat, fatigue, and a fever, these are more likely to be symptoms of either the regular flu or COVID-19 and you should seek immediate medical help.]
You may also experience a sudden darkening under your eyes, and paying attention to it early can help you treat while your symptoms are still not severe.
You can tell your pharmacist that you have:
- 鼻づまり= (Hana Zumari)= Stuffy Nose
- 鼻みず= (Hana Mizu)= Runny Nose
- なみだ目= (Namida-Mei)= Teary Eyes
- 目のかゆみ= (Mei no Kayumi)= Itchy Eyes
- くしゃみ= (Kushami)= Sneezing
Telling your pharmacist your symptoms (along with the work kafunsho, of course), will help them find the best medication for you.
Medication for pollen allergy in Japan
Japan has been trying to crack this problem for years now, and there are many over-the-counter (OTC) allergy medications that can be used to help your specific allergy symptoms. There are pills, eye-drops, and nasal sprays, as well as herbal medicine treatments.
Japanese pollen masks are the first order of business. These face masks have been specially designed to filter out pollen particles. Wearing a mask is one of the easiest ways you can combat Hay Fever since it requires no medication and simply stops your allergy at its source. While this doesn’t do much for those suffering primarily in the eyes, a mild pollen allergy sufferer should see results by using these special pollen face masks.
Photo : https://www.arax.co.jp
These Pitta masks are said to cut out 99% of pollen and are made out of totally flexible material to be comfortable enough for all-day wear. We recommend you try out a few different types if you plan on being in Japan throughout the season. Remember that for masks to be effective, you need to be wearing them most of the time, so you want ones that are as aesthetically pleasing as you like, comfortable without pulling on your ears, and filtering out 99% of pollen matter.
There are also many OTC eye drops available to combat allergy symptoms. These eye drops can help mitigate any symptoms not caught by the eye mask and without resorting to taking medication. For itchy, watery eyes, we recommend either Algard Clearblock Z, or Zajiten Eye drops. Both of these are the maximum strength allowed for antihistamine and pollen-guard eye drops.
While we don’t call it Flonase, Japan has a similar medicine available as a nasal spray. Pablon Tenbi Quick, Contac Bi-En Spray, and the most popular, Nazar Spray. Nasal sprays can be really helpful, as it not only puts medication directly on the afflicted nasal canal but also lays down a guard to keep pollen from irritating your nasal canal further.
Nasal sprays often give instant relief, and usually are used in combination with medication and/or eye drops. All of these are excellent options for your sinus congestion or runny nose.
Finally, of course, you can take an OTC histamine blocker. Allegra FX is also commonly available in the US, making it an excellent choice if you’re traveling and looking for a substitute for your usual medication. Allegra is also non-drowsy, so it’s great for people suffering from mild-to-moderate allergy symptoms looking to stay focused.
If your allergy is a little more severe, these may not be enough. Contac 600 Plus is a twice-a-day medication that can help those struggling with the breadth of allergy symptoms, from eyes to nose. This medication does cause drowsiness, so maybe avoid this if you have any driving to do.
No matter what you decide to take, it’s very important that you talk to your pharmacist to make sure that the medications can be used together, especially since you may not be able to read the labels. If you tell your pharmacist your symptoms (using the guide we showed above if your Japanese is still rusty), they should be able to help you find which medicines are right for you.
You can also bring along your trusty Google Translate to help you prepare, should you need medicines in an emergency or after pharmacy hours.
When the Sakura are blooming, so are the cedar trees; the sooner you get treatment for your allergy symptoms, the sooner you can enjoy the beautiful magnificence that is a Japanese spring. Your quality of life is important to us at MetroResidences, and we wish you a safe and healthy time in our beautiful country!