Drivers warned of hay fever risks

As the pollen count rises, drivers with hay fever are being urged to be more aware of how their condition may affect them. According to health charity Allergy UK, one in three people in the UK has hay fever, many of whom get behind the wheel with a runny nose, itchy eyes and constant sneezing.

Not only that, but some people may still be taking older types of antihistamine medication, which can cause drowsiness. All of these things could be potentially very dangerous for someone driving, the charity suggests.

“Hay fever symptoms are not only highly unpleasant, they can also be quite distracting when you drive,” says Holly Shaw, nurse advisor at Allergy UK. “Although it may be tempting to take your hand off the wheel to rub your eyes or blow your nose, this may increase the risk of having an accident.

“Just as a lot of people don’t know that taking the wrong type of antihistamine may cause drowsiness, it is also easy to underestimate how hay fever can affect your concentration when you’re driving.”

Indeed, according to Allergy UK a study from the Dutch University of Maastrict suggests taking to the road with hay fever symptoms is the equivalent of driving with a blood alcohol level of 0.05 percent. Currently in Scotland, this would mean you were over the drink drive limit (in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, a blood alcohol level of 0.08 percent and over exceeds the limit).

The key to safe driving with hay fever, says Allergy UK, is to take the right precautions. Here are some of the charity’s top tips:

  • Choose the right antihistamine This is important as some older – yet still popular – brands can have a sedative effect and increase drowsiness. Ask your pharmacist for long-acting, non-sedating antihistamines.
  • Treat watery eyes before driving Use anti-allergy eye drops before getting behind the wheel. Wearing sunglasses may help prevent pollen getting into your eyes while you’re driving.
  • Close all car windows Turn on your air conditioning to keep cool instead of opening the windows, which can let pollen in. If your car has a pollen filter, remember to change it when necessary.
  • Keep some tissues handy It’s a good idea to keep tissues within reach in case you sneeze suddenly or if your nose is running. Also pull over if necessary, when it’s safe to do so.
  • Use an allergen barrier balm Ask your pharmacist to recommend an allergen barrier balm and apply it around the opening to the nose and around the bony part of the eyes, as it may act as an effective pollen trap.

Find out more about hay fever and what you can do to reduce your symptoms by visiting Allergy UK’s website. Meanwhile, your local Careway pharmacist can advise you about over-the-counter anti-allergy medicines, including antihistamines and eye drops. Find your nearest Careway pharmacy by using our Pharmacy Finder.