Don’t be allergic to driving. Tips for the hay fever season

Between 15% and 20% of people in the UK suffer from hay fever, a seasonal affliction that starts around late May and continues through to August, when grass pollen concentrations are at their height. Hay fever runs from the mild to the utterly debilitating when sufferers find it impossible to live normally.

Typically, hay fever sufferers report the following symptoms:

  • Sneezing
  • Runny nose
  • Blocked nose
  • Itching in the nose, throat and deep in the ears
  • Headache caused by sinusitis, in turn caused by swelling in the nose
  • Watering, redness and itching in the eyes
  • Gritty feeling in the eyes
  • Swelling in the whites of the eyes

Allergies and driving

For drivers, sneezing and irritated eyes can be a major distraction. A single sneeze can lead to almost total distraction from driving for several hundred yards - more than enough to get into real danger or to be involved in an accident.

A widely-reported recent study commissioned by Halfords found that more than one in four drivers (27 per cent) suffer from hay fever and 25 per cent of those who suffer believe that their symptoms affect their ability to drive.

Some people may be surprised that police have warned that drivers who get behind the wheel when suffering from hay fever may be liable for prosecution. You should therefore be realistic about how your allergies are affecting your driving abilities and if you've taken all the appropriate medications and precautions you can before driving, even if you're not suffering from hay fever or other allergy symptoms.

It is also an offence under the Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988 to drive a vehicle on a road while unfit through drugs - this applies equally to prescription and over-the-counter drugs as to illegal recreational drugs.

Advice for hay fever sufferers

  • Only take non-drowsy anti-histamines - the good news is that most modern anti-histamines fall into this category, although you must be very careful to read all the information that comes with your chosen remedy, and be sure that you are not made drowsy
  • If you suffer from hay fever every year, start your medication before you start suffering from hay fever symptoms - say, around early May
  • If you're having a bad day with your allergies, get someone else to do the driving - you may find this easier to arrange if you're already car sharing
  • Check if there's a pollen filter available for your car - if you have one installed, does the filter need changing?
  • Keep a box of tissues with easy reach, so you don't have to wrestle your handkerchief from your pocket or bag while you're driving
  • Slow down or drop back from the vehicle in front if you think you're going to sneeze
  • Wear sunglasses - wrap-arounds are best - to keep pollen from your eyes
  • Close windows and air vents, or set your air-con to recycle to stop pollen concentrations increasing in your vehicle
  • Clear your car of dust and pollen by vacuuming carpets, mats and upholstery

Take sensible precautions and you, your passengers and other road users should remain safe during the hay fever season.

David Williams MBE is the Chief Executive of GEM Motoring Assist, a multi award-winning provider of car breakdown cover. You can find out about simple car servicing and lots of other advice on their website.

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