Living in Japan with Food Allergies Part 3: In Case of an Allergic Reaction

If you’ve read the part one and part two, then you are well prepared to manage your food allergies. Let’s talk about what to do if you do have an allergic reaction to food during your time in Japan. It happens to the best of us, and when you least expect it. 

You’ll know whether or not you’re having an allergic reaction, be it a slight tingling on the lips or soreness in the throat. Mild reactions usually go away in a couple of minutes. Some people allow themselves to eat certain ingredients or meals because they consider their allergies to be tolerable.

In all honesty, don’t be that person. Allergies are unpredictable and reactions vary on the state of your body. What might have been a slight tingle one winter afternoon can be fatal one summer evening.

Finding Meds

Though they rarely apply to food allergies, you might have some pills that you either brought with you or you need to buy. Just like overseas, there are many (link in Japanese) kinds of medicine to treat a runny nose or itchy eyes, and you should know which one works for you. These will be written on the boxes in katakana more often than not. If a drug isn’t available at the drugstore, it might be because it requires medical consultation and prescription.

There are many ways to go about taking pills. You may choose to take them every day for absolute precaution or only on selected days where you feel more adventurous in trying new dishes. You can also take them as soon as you feel something unusual.

For moderate reactions like hives, particularly if they’re spreading, it’s safer to head straight for an emergency clinic. If you’ve done your research, you should have a number to call and have an idea of where to go. Since there’s no general practice system in Japan, you might be asked to choose what kind of doctor you’d prefer to see before being given a referral.

At this point, the hospital will be expecting you, so don’t change your mind even if you think you feel better. These reactions can be harmless or they can be ticking time-bombs. 

What To Do

Expect some paperwork once you arrive at the emergency clinic. You might also have to get a hospital card printed in order to receive any treatment. Since it is an emergency clinic, you might have to wait a little bit, but allergic reactions are pretty serious and you definitely won’t be spending the night there. Once the doctor sees you, they’ll ask you a couple of questions, so it might be worth memorizing some keywords like “breathing” (呼吸, kokyuu) and “itch” (痒み, kayumi).

Anaphylactic shock is a life-threatening allergic reaction. You’ll know if you’re prone to these depending on how you react to allergens during your allergy test. Don’t waste time in getting and injecting your EpiPen before calling 119, which is one of the two emergency numbers in Japan. An EpiPen is filled with epinephrine (adrenaline), which will only delay swelling of the airways hopefully long enough for medical dispatch to arrive. It’s not a treatment, and should only be used in dire situations.

How To Pay

If you’re under a student visa, you should have applied for the national insurance, which covers 70% of the costs of both the consultation and prescripted medication. If you work in Japan, your company or private insurance will cover it as well. Make sure to carry the insurance card with you at all times. It should be noted that most hospitals don’t accept credit cards, so if you’re prone to moderate or severe allergic reactions, you will want to keep a certain amount of emergency cash on you.

Now, maybe you’re wondering what to do if you panic and forget all of your Japanese ability. As much as it might feel like imposing a burden on your friends or acquaintances if you can have somebody who is comfortable speaking Japanese, it is a good idea to put them on speed dial. Alternatively, you can limit your culinary adventures to days when you’re accompanied by them. Does it feel like you’re being babysitted? Yes. It’s not fun, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.

You’ll also have to make peace with the idea that there are certain meals you might never be able to eat. But Japanese cuisine is vast and there are a lot of things to enjoy and that fall outside of your allergies. Be prepared and save yourself the trip to the hospital to enjoy everything Japan has to offer.

Feature image: Shutterstock

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