How to safely drive when you take hay fever medicine

Advice for drivers with hay fever

For hay fever sufferers, the forecast for hot and sunny weather is a double-edged sword, because the pollen count is likely to be very high.

At best, hayfever is a summer irritant that sufferers could do without, but it can also mean the difference between staying indoors or going outside. For drivers, the issues extend to more than just sniffing and sneezing behind the wheel.

Which is why road safety and breakdown organisation GEM Motoring Assist is urging motorists who take hay fever remedies to check their medicines carefully before getting driving.

GEM road safety officer Neil Worth said: “Some medicines, including those used to treat hay fever, can have an effect on your ability to drive safely. They could make you tired, dizzy or groggy, and they can compromise your vision and reaction time.

“That’s why it’s so important to check with your GP or pharmacist, and to read any warnings contained on the labels of the medicines you plan to take.

“The same road traffic laws apply to therapeutic drugs as to illicit substances, so if your driving is impaired and you cause a collision, you risk prosecution and the loss of your licence.”

Advice for hay fever sufferers

Hay fever behind the wheel

GEM has issued a safety checklist for drivers who take hay fever medicine, and the advice can be summarised as follows:

  • Ask your doctor or pharmacist if a medicine could affect your ability to drive. Be particularly careful if you are using a medicine for the first time.
  • If you experience potentially dangerous side effects from a medicine, don’t drive. Organise a taxi or a lift from a friend if you need to travel.
  • If you find a particular medicine is making you sleepy, consider asking if there is a non-sedating alternative available.
  • It’s not just prescription medicines that can cause drowsiness and other potentially dangerous side-effects. So, check with your pharmacist if you plan to use an over-the-counter drug.
  • If you’re unsure about the warning given on the medicine you’re using, ask your doctor or pharmacist to explain any risks before you drive anywhere.

Last summer, a study by Confused.com found that 58 percent of drivers who suffer from hay fever said they had driven a car shortly after taking medication, even though many remedies can impair performance behind the wheel.

A worrying 10 percent said that had noticed adverse effects of taking prescription drugs.

It is illegal to drive if you’re unfit to do so because you’re on legal or illegal drugs, or you have certain levels of illegal drugs in your blood. 

Over-the-counter medication is covered by the same drug-driving laws as illegal substances such as cocaine and cannabis, so drivers are advised to consult the government website for a list of prescription medicines affected by the legislation.

‘Check the medication thoroughly’

Pollen season ahead for drivers

Richard Gladman, head of driving and riding standards at IAM RoadSmart, warned: “If you are stopped by the police after taking a hay fever remedy and driving whilst impaired you could find yourself falling foul of drug driving regulations.

“Be sure to check the medication thoroughly and see if it is suitable. But most importantly, concentrate on your route to recovery so you can get back onto the road sooner rather than later.”

IAM RoadSmart has the following advice for hay fever sufferers:

  • Ensure your car is clean and dust free and that you operate the air conditioning or ventilation to your advantage. lt’s important that you change your pollen filter regularly.
  • For anyone who hasn’t been diagnosed with hay fever and is feeling under the weather, avoid driving and arrange to see your GP.
  • While over-the-counter medicines will help with a runny nose and sneezing symptoms, they can also blur vision and make you feel drowsy – ask your GP for the best course of action.
  • Your GP may advise you to take anti-histamines, but make sure you take the non-drowsy ones. If you’re unsure, read the leaflet or speak to your pharmacy.
  • If you need to get somewhere but don’t feel well enough to drive, ask somebody else. Whatever you do, don’t take yourself: you may just end up sneezing and travelling up to 50ft with your eyes closed and losing control of your vehicle.

If in doubt, talk to your pharmacist and always read the label.