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Hay fever and driving: How to stay safe

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Hay fever has been reported as a cause of accidents in the UK this year. More than 2 in 3 (68%)* drivers told us that their hay fever symptoms had a negative impact on their driving. So what should you do if you have hay fever symptoms while driving? And what should you do if you’re taking medication?  Here's what you need to know.

Person in car sneezing

If you’re a long-term hay fever sufferer then you’ll already know this. But almost 1 in 2 people experience hay fever at some point in their life(1). If you’re experiencing hay fever for the first time, the most common symptoms reported are:

  • Sneezing (72%)
  • Itchy or watery eyes (68%)
  • A running or blocked nose (63%)

This depends on whether it affects your driving. According to our research, more than 2 in 3 motorists told us that hay fever negatively affected their ability to drive.

Almost 1 in 4 (23%) of these motorists told us that sneezing and coughing impacted their vision. A further 1 in 5 (21%) said they lacked concentration while driving and 1 in 5 (17%) felt dizzy or light headed.

Almost 1 in 5 (17%) motorists have experienced an accident or near-miss as a result of their hay fever symptoms.

Over a third of those (37%) who’ve had an accident or near-miss said they lost control of the car because they were coughing or sneezing.

A quarter (25%) said they lost control because their vision was compromised.

Another worrying side effect of hay fever is drowsiness. Over a quarter (27%) of motorists found their reactions and coordination delayed because of their hay fever symptoms.

Yes, you can drive while taking certain hay fever medications. Usually most medications that you pick up off the shelf or over the counter at the pharmacy are safe. 

But some hay fever medications have a sedative effect. Check the medication label for diphenhydramine and chlorphenamine(2). These are common ingredients that cause drowsiness. 

Chlorphenamine is found in Piriton. So it’s worrying that this is the most popular brand used by allergy sufferers, with 39% taking this medication before driving. 

If you’re driving, make sure you choose a non-drowsy medication. If you're not sure, speak to a pharmacist beforehand.

If your reaction to your hay fever medication has caused you to have a crash, you could be convicted for drug driving. Nearly a third (32%) said their insurance costs increased because of an accident. And 1 in 3 (30%) had points on their licence, or a fine (23%). 

Usually if you’re convicted of drug-driving you could get:

  • A driving ban for up to 1 year
  • An unlimited fine
  • Up to 6 months in prison
  • A criminal record

If you find your symptoms are too severe while you’re driving, you should pull over in a safe place until they pass. This could help avoid a dangerous situation. 

You should take measures to keep your hay fever symptoms at bay. This includes taking non-drowsy hay fever medication or checking the pollen count before you drive.

What our motor insurance expert says

“We’re not at the peak time of year where hay fever sufferers are hit hard with their symptoms, and these are uncomfortable at the best of times. However, it’s clear that this is also impacting them while driving, with consequences like an accident or near-miss a common occurrence for many.

“Sneezing or coughing behind the wheel can cause you to swerve or lose control of the car, and this can be unavoidable. But if you feel a sneeze or cough coming, try to slow down and be aware of any traffic or hazards ahead of you.

“But the other risk is taking certain medications before you drive. This can have a sedating effect, which could land you in trouble with the law if it impacts your driving ability. Always read the label or speak to a doctor or pharmacist if you’re unsure if your usual medication is considered to be unsafe for driving. They should point you to an alternative.

“Hay fever can’t be avoided, and it’s a real pain for those who suffer. But taking the right measures before driving can keep you safe while on the road.”

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*Unless otherwise stated, all research figures taken from omnibus research carried out by One Poll on behalf of Confused.com. This was an online poll of 1,500 UK drivers who suffer from hay fever. The research was conducted between 18 and 24 May 2023.

1. https://www.allergyuk.org/about-allergy/statistics-and-figures/

2. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/antihistamines/