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Overcoming Allergies: How to Cope with Hay Fever and Other Seasonal Ailments in Japan

WARNING: The following information is opinion based and not supported by any medical professional. 

Relocating, or even perhaps just coming on holiday to a place like Japan can be a truly life-changing experience. Coming to a country so beautiful, so enchanting, but also so different brings with it all manner of opportunities to see and do new things.

Unfortunately, for those of us prone to allergies or other chronic ailments, it also brings with it new challenges, as we seek to contain and control our symptoms without access to our recognized western brands of medicine.

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Medicines in Japan, although they are often formulated the same way, don’t quite work along the same lines as medicines in other countries. Dosages vary and, as such, so do the effectiveness, longevity and possible side-effects of the medication.

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A quick tip if you ever need to get medicine from a Japanese doctor or pharmacy. Typically, if you have a good doctor or pharmacist, with a reasonable command of English, they will ask you if you want the imported or generic medication. Always ask for the generic. It is basically the same medicine minus a brand label. As an example, a friend of mine, who suffered from stomach ulcers, was able to take the Japanese equivalent of Zantac for a price about 60% less than the named brand.

Of course, you need to bear in mind the typically smaller dosages of Japanese medicines, so discuss with your doctor or pharmacist how much above the stated dose you should take. Do not set dosages yourself! Always discuss this with a medical professional! With that out of the way, let’s look at a few common ailments and how to best treat them during your stay in Japan.

Hay Fever

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Hay fever remedies in Japan cover a variety of drug types, ingestion methods, and underlying medical philosophies. So, here’s a few different meds I have tried down the years that I found most effective:

For coughs, congestion, running nose, and the general feeling of irritation that comes from hay fever, I recommend Alegra FX. Available over the counter at most regular pharmacies in Japan without prescription, Alegra is easily recognizable by its distinctive purple box. Recommended dosage is 1 tablet twice per day. I recommend mid-morning and early evening for maximum effect.

Alegra also has the added bonus of being non-drowsy, so I can take it, and still continue to type these wonderful stories for you, dear readers, without the inevitable spelling and grammar errors that come from being sleepy!

Specifically for nasal congestion, runny nose and irritation, there are also sprays which when fired up your nostrils provide a fairly effective source of medium term relief. Of these, the most effective one I have found is probably Contac, recognizable by the little orange capsule mascot on the front.

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Again, this should be administered twice per day, and doesn’t usually cause drowsiness. However, I did find I would sneeze excessively for a few minutes after taking it, but this has the positive effect of “clearing the airways” as it were.

Of course another area that can suffer during a hay fever flare up is our eyes. Thankfully there are also various eye drops available in Japan to counteract this effect.

Of these, the one I would recommend, given its strength and fast acting nature, is Zaditen AL. These drops have an almost immediate effect, with no residual dryness, irritability or impaired vision. Again these drops are readily available at your local pharmacy in Japan.

Dust Mites

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Another major problem to contend with in Japan is dust allergies. Having tatami floors may seem like a gorgeous and elegant throwback to the samurai and swords of yesteryear, but it’s also a classic breeding ground for dust mites. Thankfully, there are again numerous sprays available to combat the debilitating effects of such an unfortunate ailment.

Of those on the market, the one I have found to be most effective is Pabron Quick.

As the name would suggest, it kicks in very quickly, providing relief throughout the day of the usual blocked nose, irritated eyes and sore throat that are so often the hallmarks of a dust mite allergy.

Skin Irritation

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Finally, there is the issue of skin irritation. This is one that I have noticed I have to contend with a lot more since I settled in Japan. If you notice your skin getting flaky, irritated or excessively dry during your time here in Japan, it may, as the old cliché goes: “be something in the water.”

Japanese water is a lot harder, and more abrasive to the skin than water from the UK or US. This is due to the differing mineral content in Japanese water. For me, it has the unfortunate side effect of aggravating my childhood eczema, leaving big dry, red patches on my face and body from time to time.

Justus Blümer on Flickr

Thankfully, these days, my go-to remedy from back home, Nivea Cream, is now available in most larger supermarkets in Japan. Applying the cream to any affected areas as soon as the first signs of irritation emerge can greatly offset any major cosmetic impact, as well as ease any flaking or itching of the skin. Additionally, washing and showering with Dove Soap and shower gel goes a long way towards helping too.

Mike Mozart on Flickr

For the flaky scalp, Head and Shoulders shampoo, known in Japan simply as H and S, is highly effective and only slightly more expensive than conventional shampoos. I’ve found from experience that the ladies here tend to appreciate its menthol scent too!

Of course there is the old medical adage that prevention is better than cure. If you do have an allergy or some other chronic, long term condition that requires ongoing treatment, then it is probably a good idea to bring a supply of medicines from home if you can.

Alternatively you can order many medicines online these days from sites such as Amazon and Ebay. However, do be aware that certain drugs that are certified for distribution in the UK and US may not be so in Japan, and vice versa. Be sure to check the legality of importing such drugs before you order.

By following these simple steps today, here’s hoping you’ll have a fun and allergy free time in Japan!

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