Driving with hay fever just as dangerous as driving after drinking alcohol

 

We are all familiar with the dangers of drink driving, but not many hay fever sufferers check the pollen count before getting behind the wheel. According to new research carried out at the University of Maastricht in the Netherlands, the effects of this common allergy can affect driving ability to the same degree as drinking two to three units of alcohol, the legal limit in most European countries.

Around one in five people in Britain suffer from hay fever. As well as causing itchy eyes, a runny nose and sneezing bouts, the allergy can cause sluggishness and have a negative effect on memory. According to Bernd Kremer, an ENT doctor and leader of the new study, it is these effects on cognitive function that threaten allergy sufferers’ ability to control a vehicle safely. Kremer emphasises that those whose driving is already affected by other factors, for example by medication or other medical conditions, should be "on the alert”.

In order to establish the effect of allergic reactions on driving skills, twenty hay fever sufferers were asked to complete a set of two driving tests. These took place outside of the hay fever season, after participants had used a nose spray that contained either a placebo, or an allergy-inducing substance. Using specialised measuring equipment, the discrepancy was calculated between the ideal trajectory of the car and the actual path taken. When the allergy symptoms had been induced, the drivers deviated significantly more from the optimal route than when they had taken the placebo. This deviation corresponds to an increased accident risk, and was comparable to the effects of a blood alcohol content of 50 milligrams per 100 millilitres, the legal limit in most European countries. In the UK, the limit is 80 milligrams per 100 millilitres.

The researchers found that treatment with anti-allergy medication largely restored the drivers’ skills, indicating that the risks caused by hay fever can, in most cases, be fairly easily managed. Kremer feels that doctors should play a role in ensuring that allergic motorists are aware of the dangers, and that they should impress the importance of treatment on their patients. “What we wanted to demonstrate with this research, is that doctors should be aware that in addition to informing patients of the risks of hay fever, they should be advising them to treat their condition.”

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