Thursday, February 19, 2009

Surgical masks and safety glasses

My eyes have been unbearably itchy for the past few weeks and I had no idea why until I found out that it's hay fever season. Yes, hay fever in February.

Apparently, the cedar trees are to blame. Or, more accurately, the Japanese government is to blame for planting so many of the damn things in order to resupply the country with timber after the war.

But it turns out replanting the country with fast-growing cedar only ended up creating a nation of allergy sufferers. Oops.

If you walk into any drugstore in Japan right now you will see special displays devoted to fighting the effects of cedar pollen. Allergy sufferers have an arsenal of weapons to choose from. The most popular products? Surgical masks and safety glasses.

Almost everyone who is sick (or is trying to avoid getting sick) wears a surgical mask in Japan. It's very normal. It's also very considerate. Sick people wear a mask to avoid infecting others. Healthy people wear a mask to avoid getting sick. Of course, I didn't know any of that the first time I saw someone wearing a surgical mask. I thought they had SARS or Ebola or something. It was very disconcerting.

And while everyone wears masks, I have yet to see a single person wearing safety glasses. I have seen the glasses for sale but I have never seen anyone buy them.

My eyes are unbearably itchy but I just can't bring myself to wear protective glasses and a surgical mask in public. My western vanity won't allow it. Plus, I'm not convinced the glasses are all that effective.

I think you'd need an airtight seal in order to keep the pollen from irritating your eyes. You'd probably be better off wearing swim goggles or a gas mask (which I have actually seen someone wearing in public . . . in Vancouver, of course).

No comments: