Driving While Allergic – It’s Almost as Bad as Drunk Driving, Study Shows

A new study shows that driving while suffering allergies is akin to driving while drinking.

A new study shows that driving while suffering allergies is akin to driving while drinking.

As any longtime allergy sufferer knows, it’s no joke when allergies hit. The sniffling, the sneezing, the itchy, watery eyes – These and other symptoms can significantly affect not only the way you feel, but your ability to work productively throughout the day. But that’s not all. According to a new study, allergies also can affect your ability to safely operate a vehicle.

In fact, researchers say that driving while suffering a seasonal allergy (also called allergic rhinitis or hay fever) episode can be much like driving while drinking alcohol. Conducted in the Netherlands during the off-season, the study analyzed the driving abilities of 19 patients, all of whom were in their 30s and had grass or tree pollen allergies, after being exposed to pollen. Each participant then was administered either a nasal spray medication, an antihistamine or a placebo and let loose on a 60-minute driving course. Driving tests were conducted four times over a period of several days. In the last 15 minutes of each session, participants were given verbal memory tests to see how many words presented via the car’s audio system they could recall.

The results are unnerving. Patients treated with steroid-based nasal sprays fared well on the test, followed by those treated with antihistamine medications. But for patients who took placebos, driving performance and memory took a serious hit. Results showed that while driving with watery eyes, runny nose and fatigue, these participants’ driving skills were comparable to that of someone operating a vehicle with a blood alcohol content of 0.03 percent. That’s just below the legal limit of 0.05-percent BAC in most countries.

Though the legal limit here in the United States is 0.08-percent BAC, it’s important to note that judgment and coordination can be affected with a BAC as low as 0.02 percent. That’s of significant concern considering that a full 30 percent of American adults suffer allergies. What’s more, study participants were tested in easy driving conditions in clear weather without distractions of cell phones, radios and the like. Add inclement weather, cell phone calls or texts and just one chatty passenger and you can imagine how much worse results may have been for the placebo-administered patients. While seasonal allergies have been anecdotally linked to automobile accidents, the actual related effects on a driver’s performance were unknown prior to this study.

If you suffer seasonal or other allergies and are a licensed driver, don’t take chances on the road. Call 904-461-6060 today to schedule a consultation with an allergy specialist at St. Augustine Ear, Nose & Throat.