Coping with hay fever

Blog post posted on 17/06/21 |

A runny nose, headache, constant sneezing, and coughing, itchy, red, or watery eyes are just a few of the symptoms hay fever sufferers deal with during the summer. Depending on the pollen count, your level of immunity and the medication or remedies you take, symptoms and the corresponding affect can impact motorists in several ways.

A recent article in the IAM RoadSmart magazine on the Science of Sickness, highlighted driving is a complex set of psychomotor actions that require the brain to integrate vision and hearing, as well as acceleration and deceleration cues. Dr Peter Holden a GP and advisor on medical driving issues for the British Medical Association emphasised if you’re feeling unwell and tired, your thinking slows down, your perception drops, and you become a danger to yourself and fellow road users.

If you’re eyes are streaming, your vision is impaired. If you sneeze, you’re momentarily distracted. This is before you factor in remedies and treatments which ‘could’ accelerate you towards the drink-drive limit. Remembering IAM RoadSmart recommends ‘None for the Road’ consider your health and the safety of passengers and other drivers before you get behind the wheel.

Here’s some advice from IAM RoadSmart’s head of driving and riding standards, Richard Gladman, about what you need to consider; if you are well enough and what you can do to better cope with it before taking to the road.             

  • Do you actually need to go anywhere and if you do, does that involve you as the driver? Consider before you start your journey the impact that hay fever can have. You need all your senses to drive and be as safe as possible. Momentary lapses in concentration can have devastating effects. If you are sneezing, coughing, suffering with itchy, soar or watery eyes can you really see the road ahead and deal with any danger?
  • Add to this pain in your temples and forehead, earache affecting your balance and awareness, plus tiredness and maybe you shouldn’t be driving or riding.
  • Could you car share for the season? Some people do it for snow days, why not for hay fever season?
  • Air conditioning can be a very successful solution for hay fever sufferers, but units must be maintained if it is to remain effective. 
  • All these complications and conditions are multiplying the danger if you’re on a bike. If you can’t keep a clear head and helmet, stay off the road.
  • For anyone who hasn’t been diagnosed with hay fever and is feeling under the weather, avoid driving or riding and arrange to see your GP as soon as possible. What you might think is just a slight cold can become a major distraction – so get it checked before it gets worse.
  • What could be worse? Covid-19 has very similar symptoms including loss of smell. Seasonal ailments could be disguising a bigger issue. If you take Covid-19 out of the equation don’t forget tiredness and fatigue caused by stress, small children, noisy neighbours, or other things all impact your driving!
  • While over-the-counter medicines will help with a runny nose and sneezing symptoms, check the label, they may contain ingredients which can blur vision and make you feel drowsy – check with your GP what the best course of action is.
  • Your GP may advise you to take anti-histamines to control the symptoms, but make sure you take the non-drowsy ones. If you’re unsure, read the leaflet or speak to your pharmacy for more advice.
  • If you need to get somewhere but don’t feel well enough to drive or ride, then see if someone you know can take you and drop you back. Whatever you do don’t take yourself - you may just end up sneezing and travelling up to 50ft with your eyes closed and losing control of your vehicle!

Minimising the effects

  • Try to minimise the effects by ensuring your car is clean and dust free and that you operate the air conditioning or ventilation to your advantage, making use of air recirculation where possible.
  • Buy an in-car air filter for the air vents in your car
  • Keep car windows closed and the air intake on ‘re-circulate’ when driving.
  • Avoid smoking and smokers – it makes your symptoms worse
  • Monitor pollen forecasts daily and stay indoors if possible when pollen count is high. That’s generally on warmer, dry days. Rain washes pollen from the air so counts should be lower on cooler, wet days. Although do beware of thunderstorms when pollen counts are high
  • Avoid dual-carriageways, motorways with high grass or along roads with grass verges

Richard said: “Be sure to check the medication thoroughly and see if it is suitable. But most importantly, concentrate on your route to recovery so you can get back onto the road sooner rather than later.”

View the advice, including guidance on prescriptions medicines, here -