June 2006 – What’s the Japanese word for “pink eye”

Not sure the exact date this happened, but I’m pretty sure it was mid 2006.

Due to the lifestyle of an English teacher, I’m used to having red eyes that are sensitive to light. However in late June my eyes started bothering me in a way that I couldn’t attribute to hangovers. Regular eye drops didn’t seem to help, and I eventually started to realize that I had pink eye aka conjunctivitis.

I haven’t had pink eye since I was a kid. At the time, almost all of the kids I knew had it, and I remember fighting my parents over the use of painful eye drops to fix the problem. Now, as an adult, I had to seek out the painful eye drops and buy them in a language that I was still learning.

I used my English / Japanese dictionary to look up the word for conjunctivitis, and then confirmed with the Japanese staff at work that I had the right word. When it comes to taking medicine, it’s very important to make sure you get the translation right! The staff, at a safe distance, confirmed that the word I needed was 結膜炎, which is read as ketsumakuen.

After work I rode my bike to Seiyu and started looking around the pharmacy section. I found a section with eye drops and contact lens solution, and then started slowly scanning the packages for the the characters 結膜炎. This is not an easy process, especially with irritated eyes. After a few minutes of looking I decided to suck it up and ask for assistance.

There was a clerk nearby, so I told him in Japanese something along the lines of “excuse me, I have pink eye. I would like to buy medicine.” He showed me that there were three different products not far from where I had been looking. I asked him which one was the best, and he pointed out one of them as being popular because it was the easiest to use. I thanked him, made my purchase, and headed home.

Inside the box were a whole row of small disposable plastic vials, each containing one dose of medicine. I was happy that I didn’t have to try to read the dosage instructions in Japanese, but I did question the wisdom of disposable packaging in a country where it is notoriously hard to dispose of garbage. The eye drops stung like crazy, but my pink eye was gone within a few days.

Taking care of your health in a country where you don’t speak the language can be scary. There are a few good English language help lines for gaijins, but it never hurts to have some local contacts to ask too. Stay healthy friends!

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