Seasonal Allergies - Drowsy Driving Equals Dangerous Driving

Drowsy Construction Worker Rubs Eyes

So, allergy season has been in full bloom for a time and many of us can probably write a note in the pollen on our vehicles.  More than 50 million Americans suffer from seasonal allergies.  Most are at their worst in the spring, but other times of the year can be problematic depending upon where you live and what the allergen is.  Regardless, they can not only be an annoyance, but a real safety issue.

Your body reacts to contact with pollen by producing chemicals called histamines.  Histamines cause the tissue in your nose to swell, your eyes and nose to run, makes your eyes itch, and in some cases causes skin rashes.  We respond by searching out antihistamine medications that counteract the effect of histamines, helping relieve allergies, including hay fever.

In addition to pollen-related allergies, many of us deal with other types of allergies - such as food and pet dander.  These allergies can present serious issues any time of year in any climate.  In many cases antihistamines are also used to treat these conditions.

But antihistamines can affect your ability to focus by making you feel drowsy.  Some antihistamines take longer to work than others, and while you might feel fine just after taking them, the sedating effects can last for some time.

It’s also important to avoid alcohol consumption, sedatives (sleep medications), or tranquilizers while taking most antihistamines.  Impaired driving doesn’t just refer to alcohol.  Many medications, including some allergy medicines, can have side effects that make driving unsafe.  Be sure to read the directions for use and the warnings listed in the Drug Facts Label on the package if you plan to hit the road.

What's an employer to do to ensure workers taking medications are not being endangered?  While there may be legal issues around discussion of medications, you may wish to encourage workers to:

  1. Voluntarily notify their supervisor or dispatcher when they are taking either prescription or non-prescription medications.
  2. Ask their healthcare provider or pharmacist about the medicines they should take so they can be directed to the medicines that won't make them sleepy and don't cause the same side effects.
  3. Read the warnings on all medicines.
  4. Follow the directions on the package.
  5. Check with their pharmacist to see if medications like antihistamines will react with any other medications they are taking.

It's important for workers to be sharp and focused while driving, operating machinery, or even working with computers.  The effects of these medicines can make these activities troublesome and even hazardous.  This education is an important area that can save lives, minimize medication interactions, and promote the well-being of your workers.  For more on this topic, check out these additional tips from the Mayo Clinic and Yale University

By Daniel Clark