Did you know that it’s almost impossible to keep your eyes open when you sneeze? Now imagine trying to drive when you’re constantly sneezing. Or keeping your focus when your eyes are itchy and watering or you have a headache. This is what drivers who suffer from hay fever go through each year.
The hay fever season in the UK usually runs from March to September. As anyone with the condition will confirm, the symptoms can include sneezing, coughing, a runny or blocked nose, itchy or watery eyes, itchy throat, mouth, nose and ears, headache, earache and fatigue. Around one in four people in the country are affected, according to the NHS.
So how can you make sure you’re driving safely when hay fever kicks in? These are our top tips to see you through the season.
Check the pollen forecast
Hay fever is an allergic reaction to pollen so if you’re planning a journey, check the Met Office pollen forecast first. This is updated throughout the hay fever season. It provides an early warning, up to five days ahead, of when the pollen count is predicted to be high. It can help hay fever sufferers to minimise exposure to pollen and therefore ease symptoms.
Make sure you’re fit to drive
Under the rules of The Highway Code, you must be fit to drive your vehicle. Unlike some other health conditions, hay fever does not need to be reported to the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA). However, you must take responsibility for assessing your own fitness to drive when you are experiencing symptoms. For example, if you are feeling unwell, particularly tired or your eyes are extremely watery, your driving could be impaired and you may wish to consider alternative travel arrangements.
Hay fever medication and driving
It’s a criminal offence in England and Wales to drive, or attempt to drive, while unfit to do so because of drugs. The laws on drug-driving apply to both illegal drugs and legally prescribed or over-the-counter medicines.
If you are taking a prescription drug and a health professional recommends you do not drive, always follow their advice. If you have bought over-the-counter hay fever medication, check the information leaflet that comes with it. If it warns you not to drive, or advises that you may feel drowsy, then err on the side of caution and don’t get behind the wheel.
Ask your GP or pharmacist for clarification if you are in any way unsure of whether or not to drive. The road safety charity Brake suggests that if your medication is affecting your driving, you should stop driving – not stop your medication.
Never drive if you are taking hay fever medication for the first time, or changing to a different drug. You will need to assess its effect on you before knowing whether you are fit to drive while taking it.
Non-drowsy hay fever medication is widely available. Check your options with your GP or pharmacist.
Prepare your car for pollen season
Many hay fever sufferers find their symptoms flare up while in their car. Pollen counts tend to be higher along roads with grass verges such as dual carriageways and motorways. Coastal roads tend to have a lower pollen count. Pollen particles get inside vehicles either through open windows or the air conditioning/heating systems.
Both the NHS and Allergy UK recommend driving a car with an effective pollen filter fitted. These are widely available for all makes and models of cars in high street motoring retailers such as Halfords or online stores. Ask for more information at your local garage if you are unsure of what to order or need help fitting it. Don’t forget that your pollen filters will need to be changed regularly to stay effective. How often depends on where you live and where you regularly park your car. Make sure they are checked whenever your car is serviced. And keep the windows closed while driving!
Hay fever on the road
Sometimes, even if you felt fit to drive at the start of your journey, hay fever symptoms can suddenly develop while you are at the wheel. If your eyes start watering, your nose starts running or you experience severe coughing or sneezing, your driving could be impaired. Never try to treat your symptoms while driving. Instead, pull over where it is safe to do so before dealing with the problem and moving on when you feel better.
Get through the season safely
If you’re among the one-in-four dreading the season of watery eyes and sneezing, we hope these tips will help you drive safely while managing your hay fever. Remember to:
- check the pollen forecast
- make sure you are fit to drive
- always follow advice regarding driving while taking medication
- prepare your car with a pollen filter
- treat any flare-ups on the road in a place of safety.