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Driving and hay fever: a young driver’s guide

With mega itchy eyes, constant sneezing, a prickly throat and a nose that never seems to stop running, hay fever can be truly horrid, affecting exams, work, downtime and even driving. From March right through to September, anyone who suffers from hay fever has got our sympathy.

At least you’re not alone, with tens of millions of people across the UK struggling with tree, grass and weed pollen plus other causes, which make summer that teeny bit less enjoyable at times.

If you’re a young driver, one way you can help ease the effects of hay fever each time you get behind the wheel of a potentially dangerous machine is to make sure your car’s pollen filter is changed at each yearly service. Tell-tale signs that the pollen filter in your car might be clogged are if the air vents seem to have run out of breath or the windscreen takes ages to demist. Sneezing causes a person’s eyes to close for one or two seconds, which is all it takes for an accident to occur on the road, so it’s worth thinking about this summer.

Since Easter 2015, traffic police have been able to stop drivers and do saliva swab tests to check for illegal drug levels in their systems. Plenty of people assume that it’s cannabis and harder drugs that will cause any issues, not realising that taking too much hay fever medication could also tip someone over the legal limit and end up in them being fined, banned from driving and maybe even given a short prison stint.

The Pharmaceutical Society’s advice to drivers is to be careful they don’t exceed the recommended dosage. If the leaflet or packaging says take no more than two hay fever tablets per day, for example, resist the urge to take more, no matter how agonising all the sneezing and scratchy eyes can be.

A survey found that 55% of drivers spoken to say they feel drowsy after taking hay fever medication, 35% suffer blurred vision and 4% have even had accidents because of taking antihistamines. Combining hay fever tablets with even a small amount of alcohol is a big no-no.

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Tips from leading road safety organisation IAM RoadSmart for driving with hay fever include:

  • Vacuum-clear your car as often as possible in the summer to remove dust and pollen
  • Drive with your windows closed and rely on the air con (set to recirculation mode) if it’s hot outside
  • Buy non-drowsy medication if possible
  • Position tissues within reach to save you having to stretch and lose concentration while driving
  • On days when you’re sneezing a lot, keep further back than usual from the vehicle in front
  • If you can sense a sneezing fit coming on, try to park up as soon as you can safely do so
  • It can sometimes help to wear sunglasses, and to dab a bit of Vaseline inside your nostrils.

Of course, if hay fever grips you so badly that you can barely function, it’s best to leave your car keys at home and try to get around by alternative modes of transport or by getting lifts from other kind people.

Whether you’re a young or newly-qualified driver yourself, or a concerned parent or guardian, we hope these tips on driving with hay fever and staying legal were useful. 

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