Hay fever sufferers brace for a nasty season

Companies develop numerous ways to cope with high pollen rate

by Hiroko Nakata

Staff Writer

Pollen season is coming. Due to last year’s sizzling summer, the amount of pollen this year is expected to be particularly nasty in some parts of the country, adding to the suffering of those subject to allergic reactions this time of year.

At the same time, businesses are offering ever-evolving goods and services to help ease the seasonal problem, ranging from robots that warn of the level of pollen in the air to masks, glasses and coats to ward off the offending particles.

This year, the count of cedar and Japanese cypress pollen is projected to be three times the level marked last year in parts of the Kanto and Tohoku regions.

In Nagoya, the Environment Ministry expects the count to climb six times higher than last year.

Overall, pollen counts around the country are expected to run 70 percent higher than average, according to weather information provider Weathernews Inc.

Experts advise people with hay fever to limit their exposure as much as possible by staying indoors on sunny or windy days. When outside, they should try to protect their nose, mouth and eyes with masks and glasses.

With the heavy pollen season coming in mid-February, Weathernews is getting ready to collect data of how many pollen grains are floating in the air across the country by utilizing 1,000 globular devices dubbed “Pollen Robo.”

“To measure pollen, the slit inhales air like a mouth,” Miku Toma, a company spokeswoman, explained at the Weathernews headquarters in the Makuhari district in Chiba Prefecture.

Weathernews selected 1,000 people by lot out of 3,000 applicants in December to distribute the measuring devices across the country by the end of February. Every minute, the machines automatically send the pollen data they collect to Weathernews, which will show the result on its website.

The participants or their family members suffer from hay fever, Toma said.

They have been instructed to hang the devices, which measure 15 cm across and weigh 500 grams, outside their homes, usually under eaves or other locations where they will be shielded from rain.

The gadgets, which somewhat resemble a face, also warn of the pollen count by changing the color of their eyes. White signifies the pollen level is zero or very low. As the count rises, the color changes from blue to yellow, red and purple.

“The project is so popular that we’ve been receiving comments asking ‘Did you already close the applications?’ ” Toma said.

The data are updated on a map on the Weathernews’ website at weathernews.jp/pollen/ for PCs and wni.jp for mobile phones.

Weathernews started the effort back in 2005 with just 50 units of a Pollen Robo prototype. Demand for the information has grown and the number of units has climbed to the current 1,000.

Meanwhile, drugstores and other retailers are setting aside special shelves for pollen-related goods, including masks, throat sprays, supplements and medicines to ease the burden on sufferers.

Other items on offer include special glasses to protect the eyes from pollen. For example, eyeglass maker Jin Co. has upgraded its products on the back of recent strong demand. Online sales of these products began Jan. 10, while retail stores made them available starting Jan. 24.

The goggle-type glasses have slimmer ear pieces than last year and are thinner at the front so they look less like goggles. The rubber frames also fit the face better, said Jin spokeswoman Emma Nakajima.

“Since the glasses sold out last year, we have developed new ones. We plan to sell more of them this year than last year,” she said.

Nakajima said this year’s lineup includes more models — including versions for children and sunglasses — in addition to last year’s lineup, which included oval and square frames.

Suit maker Aoki Inc. is selling business coats that can protect regular attire from pollen.

The trench-style and other coats are made of cloth treated with a coating that helps pollen grains to fall away, so they are not brought indoors, according to the company.

The coats have a removable lining this year that can be worn in colder weather. Sales are expected to rise 20 percent from last year, the company said.