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can't breathe since moving to Japan? 2008/8/25 11:43

I had horrible asthma/allergy problems when I was a kid, maybe up until around middle school. From then on I started exercising a lot and found my asthma problems to pretty much go away.

I am a pretty healthy guy. I'm in good shape, I'm active, etc.

However, we moved to Japan about 5 months ago. I was fine for about 1.5 months and then we went on a mini vacation and stayed at a ryokan. That night I thought I was going to die! I couldn't breathe at all! It was a struggle to make it to the next day.

After returning from that trip it took about a week for me to get a little better. However, ever since then my lung capacity has been totally insufficient.

Our apartment is on the first floor. We have a tatami room. I thought the problem might be tatami so I have tried sleeping in the living room (hard wood floor) on the couch and it doesn't seem to help. We also bought a covering for the tatami floor that is supposed to help with allergens, but again, no effect.

Throughout the day I just feel kind of short of breath. At night I simply can't sleep. I eventually fall asleep due to exhaustion but usually wake up several times. It feels like if I breathe in for about 1.5 seconds my lungs are full and I have to exhale. It feels like I have to actively make myself breathe, which is making it impossible to sleep. (It would be like trying to fall asleep while actively trying to tap your foot all night).

I am still active, I exercise nearly every day. I jog, ride my bike, and have some martial arts classes on the weekends.

I am seeing a doctor about this, an asthma/allergy specialist. He gave me this inhaler to use (I haven't used these things since I was in grammar school!) and a bunch of pills. They seem to have no effect but everytime I go back and tell him this, he just gives me a bunch of pills again (often the same ones). I insisted on him checking me for allergies and they drew some blood and are waiting to hear back. I know I am allergic to a ton of stuff... dust, pollen, etc. But in the US I had gotten to the point where that stuff didn't bother me anymore.

I have no other symptoms. Usually when I have an allergic reaction (if I am near a cat for instance) my eyes get itchy and watery, my nose runs, I start sneezing, and then the asthma kicks in. I'm not having any of that, just the asthma. So it's kind of strange.

I vacuum the apartment pretty often and hang the futons out once a week. We recently got one of those machines you use to kill dustmites in futons. Ran it last night, vacuumed up the futons and if anything my reaction was WORSE.

So has anyone had this difficulty breathing in Japan that I am experiencing? Any ideas on what to do? Should I go see another doctor?

by al  

second opinion 2008/8/25 13:13
Yes, I believe you should go and see another doctor.
by Sira rate this post as useful

. 2008/8/25 13:28
I'm sorry to hear about your breathing condition since moving to Japan.

I am no doctor, and while it is a possibility that you may be allergic to tatami, I think mold could be a possibility.

As you know, Japan is quite humid in the summer. And while Japanese culture very much values cleanliness of the indoors (homes, shops, stores, restaurants), the humidity can cause mold and mildew in carpets, tatami, bedding like comforters or futon. No vacuum cleaner can get rid of all mold. My mother's apartment has a moldy, more like a 'musty' smell in the summer, as does many Japanese person's home , and she does clean very frequently. You may want to look into rug shampooing, or possibly new carpet (this is just a thought)

Another factor may be that a lot of Japanese don't use the air conditioner much since electricity is expensive, which could allow more more mold or mildew in carpets, etc. In fact, one smell I miss a lot from Japan is the smell of incense, cedar wood, tatami and mold....you have probably smelled this in a ryokan or temple, though I do not have a breathing problem.

I have had friends who have had minor incidents of this in Japan, and they too have blamed mold. I hope nothing is wrong, and that your doctor can help you.

Please take care of yourself and let us know what happens!
by Kazuyuki78 rate this post as useful

also.... 2008/8/25 13:34
I was thinking after I posted my response and you know what? Cedar trees (called 'sugi') are a big source of misery in Japan for allergy sufferers. After the war, there were many burned out forest areas, and the government planted many, in fact too many cedar trees. Even if you live in a big city without much greenery, the cedar pollen can travel with air/wind.

I would advise trying to find a western doctor. A lot of Japanese doctors are not used to being questioned and really don't like it when a patient may 'disagree' with them.

I do think that he is not helping you enough, but I am sorry, I cannot recommend any doctors in Japan, since I now live in the US.

So, maybe mold from high moisture and cedar pollen.

Again, please take care!!!
by Kazuyuki78 rate this post as useful

could be mould 2008/8/25 15:08
Mould could well be the issue, especially if you live in an older house. It is possible to get people to come around and test for these kinds of things. How old would you say your building is? I have lived in various places in Japan and have found that the older it is, the more I get an allergic reaction.

One of my workplaces has a problem with a leaky roof and there is quite a lot of mould growing in the corners etc- I don't suffer from asthma so don't have breathing difficulties but I get pretty bad sinus symptoms, and so so some of the other people there.

I agree with the above that you might want to find a western-trained doctor who is used to being questioned about the treatment.
by Sira rate this post as useful

breathing in japan 2008/8/25 20:09
hi al, cleaning and also vaccum cleaning can cause a worse allergic reaction, since most conventional vaccum cleaners also blow dust particles into the air. You better check what type of vaccum cleaner you are using. If you can wipe the floor only so that dust is not whirling in the air, this might help. Avoid brooms and conventional vaccum cleaners, and also dusting. When you air the futon dont beat it with a stick, as all the dust particles will come out of it. For cleaning futon there is a spray, as you have already mentioned. Then you have to vaccum the futon only.But use a clean vaccum cleaner, i.e. a vaccum cleaner with a new bag in it. Dont use vaccum cleaners which have no bags. For cleaning the tatami apply the the same method. (The best would be you could ask someone to do it for you.) If someone else cleans the room for you applying a conventional method dont enter into it immediately after it has been broomed, or dusted or whatever, since dust particles will still be in the air. May you breathe freely in Japan.
by mira08 rate this post as useful

breathing in japan 2008/8/25 20:21
There is special cleaning paper that catches the dust in it like a magnet. but i dont know whether or where it might be available in Japan. Using a mask during cleaning might help too.
by mira08 rate this post as useful

dust mites 2008/8/25 21:39
I would say that it's almost certain that dust mites are causing the problem.
They are probably in the tatami mats, and now in your bedding (futons, quilts etc) as well.

Read here on how to get rid of them:


by Sandy rate this post as useful

ideas 2008/8/25 22:26
Al, apparently what you should do is to hunt for a doctor you can trust and ask for a second opinion. I'm not saying your current doctor is not trustworthy, but each person has a different chemistry with different doctors.

At the same time you can look for a non-profit group of people with allergies. If you can read some Japanese, the following group had been helpful for me when I was a member many years ago. Very informative and well-balanced, not leaning on any specific beliefs or leaders.

You probably know about allergies a lot more than I do, but allergies are usually very complex. Often it is not caused by specific allergens but by a combination of them. Often the combination includes "stress". Being free from stress helps you improve your condition, so hopefully knowing that you're not alone would help.

I wonder if you have noticed any situations or places where you feel better. For example, Hokkaido is one of the few places in Japan that does not share this unique climate of humid summers. Or some people seem to feel better where there is sea breeze while other feel better near the mountains. Jogging and riding bikes may sound healthy, but keep in mind that you'll be breathing in a lot of air that may not suit you.

Try to take it easy, be happy and look for people who will listen to you. That's my advise.
by Uco rate this post as useful

The EXACT same thing happened to me 2008/8/26 06:24
I went through that same crap, when I stayed in a business hotel in Korea. I don't have allergies at all so this was especially strange to me but from what I hear, sometimes its the air conditioners in older hotels/ryokans that cause this. That followed me back to America as well for a few days but I noticed if you take 1 aspirin it helps you fall asleep. However since then (about Jan 2008) I haven't had that problem anymore. My guess is it should just go away for you too if you have a prolonged absence from whatever triggers that.
by gogglezpaizano rate this post as useful

thank you 2008/8/27 09:53
Thanks everyone, you've given me a lot to think about!

I went back to my doctor and got my allergy results back. I am EXTREMELY allergic to house dust/dust mites. The normal level is below .34 and my result was something like 69.32!!!

I explained to the doctor that things have been getting worse (unable to sleep all weekend) and he gave me another inhaler to use only when I can't breathe (which lately has been all the time).

He also gave me instructions on how to properly clean futons, etc... let's just say that this will be impossible if I get a job other than teaching English (which is my goal next year), because it involves hanging the futon out every day. As an English teacher, this is no problem most days but if I were to go work a "typical" 9-7 job that would just be impossible.

Does anyone think just buying a western style bed and putting it in the Japanese room would help any? I like sleeping on futons but they are a pain to maintain/clean.
by al rate this post as useful

Try 2008/8/27 14:11
"Does anyone think just buying a western style bed and putting it in the Japanese room would help any? I like sleeping on futons but they are a pain to maintain/clean."

Try renting a bed and see how it goes. At least beds will take off your burden of having to dry them each sunny day and leave you to just vacuming the surface. Here is a list of bed rentals from Googling.

Also, does your room get enough sun and air? You might want to consider moving to another place if it doesn't. Try spending a night elsewhere and see how it works. Try things, and upon doing so see what kind of temporary options you can get.
by Uco rate this post as useful

bed 2008/8/27 15:05
thank you for the link!

sadly, the apartment itself does not get much sun/air. We are on the first floor and can't leave the sliding doors/windows open because someone could just walk in while we are away. Besides that, the sliding doors/windows open out into a tiny yard that is surrounded by tall buildings so we don't get much sunlight or air.

Besides the sliding windows/doors we've just got a few windows on the other side of the apartment. These are barred and we can leave them open most of the time, but I fear they aren't sufficient.

i am worried we will have to move... as you all know, renting an apartment in Japan is ridiculously expensive (down payment, etc). We really can't afford to spend another 600,000 yen on down payments, etc!
by al rate this post as useful

When my young brother... 2008/8/27 19:20
Allow me to jump in. I was trying to remember what my mother did to ease the symptom of my young brother. (He didn't have asthma but could not stop snoozing/coughing when he was exposed to house dust/dust mite and sometimes even developed a fever.) There're maybe a few things you can do.
1)Change Tatami floor to hard-wood floor (it seems difficult in your case...)
2)Bought a pipe bed with a mesh surface.
Since a "real" bed was too big for his room, she bought a foldable metal pipe bed and placed futon on it. Pipe beds are more or less 10,000 yen and may be less expensive than renting a bed.
3)Reduced the number of furniture
It makes it easy to clean the room and prevents dusts from piling.
4)Installed air cleaner
Find one big enough to cover your room and keep running even when you are not in the room.
Even now, he has to take a medicine from time to time. But compared to what he was in the past, his symptoms improved greatly.
by JLady rate this post as useful

thoughts 2008/8/28 00:35
JLady makes a good point, and actually changing tatami floor to wooden floor is a lot easier than moving out. All you have to do is to get permission from the landlord and find a good "reform" carpenter. And while Al says it didn't work sleeping on the wooden-floored living room, having one room in the home with allergens affects all rooms. So getting rid of the tatami room does give you a chance.

However, I'm more concerned of the lack of sunshine and air. Sun and air is essencial for getting rid of mites.

The pipe bed is an excellent idea. But putting futon on it might not change anything in your case. A quality mattress would probably be better. And hunt for that mattress. I've done some mattress shopping recently and it's amazing knowing how many types of mattresses there are today.

Getting rid of excess furniture as well as getting rid of anything is helpful. And try to put everything in drawers and cabinets and boxes. It will take a load off your daily cleaning. My whole family is probably allergic to house dust and mites and getting rid of things helped ease my son's atopy.

But first ask for a doctor's second opinion and try renting things!

Sleep tight.
by Uco rate this post as useful

. 2008/8/28 05:17
Thanks for keeping us updated, I'm glad it's not more serious.

Certainly, carpet is not good for people with bad allergies, and I hope your landlord or management company can be helpful with getting rid of carpet. But if not, and it is very likely they may say no, frequent carpet cleaning (shampooing) will be second best.

Also, you may want to wear those white cotton masks at home, and certainly while sleeping. It may look very silly, but it will prevent dust from getting into your lungs. I'm sure you have seen plenty of Japanese wearing them out in public, whether to prevent the spread of a cold, from getting a cold, or for protection from pollen/dust. They are cheap and are available at supermarkets, drugstores, 100 yen shops, as well as convenience stores.

Good luck with overcoming, or at least managing your allergies!
by Kazuyuki78 rate this post as useful

Oriental medicine 2008/8/28 09:12
Also keep in mind Oriental medicine like acupuncture. Skills vary, so ask around for recommendations. On a related note, although I don't have a serious breathing problem, I breath even better and sleep well when I place my nuckles beneath my "tsubo" pressure point. I naturally take my nuckles off while sleeping, so it doesn't seriously affect my health. Press your body and look for your own tsubo. Oriental medicine and Western medicine can often be used at the same time. Ask for second opinions.

Also needless to say, sometimes I sleep better when I half way sit up by putting pillows and blankets behind my back rather than to lay straight. Sometimes it's vice versa. Depends on the night.
by Uco rate this post as useful

Weekly manshon 2008/8/28 15:23
Sorry for posting continuiously. Probably needless to say, but have you considered "weekly manshon"? Perhaps you can try staying a week. They don't require shikikin/reikin money and they're furnished usually with beds and usually have no tatami.

Try it, and if you like it switch your contract to monthly. Anyway, anything will save you time and money compared to the loss you're having every night.
by Uco rate this post as useful

can you explain a bit more? 2008/8/28 16:24
Uco san, by "nuckles" do you mean you use your knuckles to press the tsubo and it relieves allergies for you? Which pressure points do you use?
by Sira rate this post as useful

Sira 2008/8/28 18:31
Please excuse my mis-spelling. Yes, I meant knuckles. And I don't think it's allergy. Actually I don't know what it is and no one could tell me either.

It's like this. Ever since I was about 18, like many people, I started having little problems here and there such as shoulder aches. I tryed pressing various parts of my body and I found points that make me feel better.

For example I'd press a certain part of my belly and it would ease my eye ache. In bed, I'd sometimes press a spot which is actually near my back bone around my waist and it would sort of relieve all my stress and make me breath better. I feel like my blood is flowing better, therefore allowing me to relax and sleep better.

I can't remember how I learned this. But I've asked around and no one says I shouldn't do it. A lot of people tell me it's my tsubo. I know there are specific names for specific tsubo, but I don't know what they're called.

I know that a lot of Japanese people do similar things.

Hope it helps.
by Uco rate this post as useful

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