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VERIFIED CONTENTAuthor: Karolina Karabin, MD, PhD, molecular biologist, laboratory diagnostician, nutrition and lifestyle consultant

Driving a car requires a lot of concentration and attention. However, few people are aware that the ability to drive can be affected by over-the-counter medications, such as allergy medications. They can contain substances that affect our psychomotor skills and make driving as dangerous as drinking alcohol. What over-the-counter medications should you be careful about?

The effects of certain drugs on your ability to drive vary according to their mechanism of action. Over-the-counter drugs can affect our perception of our environment, our decision-making center, and the speed of our reaction, especially when taken in doses higher than recommended.

How do drugs affect driving ability?

OTC drugs can cause:

  • reduced ability to judge distance and speed,
  • distorted perception of time and space,
  • reduced motor coordination,
  • decrease in concentration,
  • hyperactivity,
  • jittery,
  • confusion,
  • sedation,
  • hallucinations,
  • visual disturbance,
  • dizziness and headache,
  • fainting.

All these effects can impair our ability to drive a car and cause collisions and road accidents.

Cough and cold medications

The most common symptoms of a cold are stuffy nose, runny nose and cough, which are the most troublesome and lead many people to take over-the-counter medications. Unfortunately, some cough and cold remedies contain ingredients that have psychoactive properties, especially when taken in doses higher than recommended.

An example isephedrine and pseudoephedrine , which are stimulants of the sympathetic nervous system (sympathomimetic drugs) and therefore have found application, among others. in the treatment of hypotension.

At the same time, these substances have the ability to contract the swollen and congested nasal mucosa, alleviating the symptoms of a cold.

Ephedrine and pseudoephedrine are most often one of the ingredients of the combined preparationrelieving the symptoms of colds, which also contains anti-inflammatory and analgesic substances.

Ephedrine and pseudoephedrine can trigger:

  • palpitations,
  • pain and dizziness,
  • nausea,
  • vomiting,
  • anxiety and fear,

which may impair your ability to drive.

A substance similar to ephedrine and pseudoephedrine isphenylephrine .

Another frequently used substance in over-the-counter cough and cold remedies iscodeine , which is useful in relieving the symptoms of cough, whatever its cause. Codeine reduces the frequency and intensity of coughing.

However, when the recommended dose is exceeded, it may cause blurred vision, drowsiness, but also excessive stimulation, which negatively affect concentration and driving.

Dextromethorphanis an antitussive drug found in many syrups and cold remedies. Unfortunately, it can impair the ability to drive vehicles, as it causes a feeling similar to being drunk or "high", as well as nystagmus and dizziness.

Triprolidinis a potent antagonist of the histamine H1 receptor, reduces nasal swelling and mucus secretion, and alleviates itching and prevents sneezing. It can be used in combination with pseudoephedrine as a cold remedy.

Unfortunately, triprolidine also inhibits the central nervous system and may cause drowsiness, thus affecting the ability to drive a car.

Allergy medications

The symptoms of allergies are very similar to those seen during a cold. There may be nasal congestion and swelling, and a runny nose. Very often, the same substances used for colds and coughs are also used as antiallergic drugs.

Loratadineis an antihistamine and blocks the effects of histamine, a substance that causes allergic symptoms. For this reason, it is a frequently used over-the-counter medication to relieve symptoms of hay fever and other allergies.

Loratadine is also available in combination with pseudoephedrine to relieve symptoms of the common cold. Side effects that may affect driving are:

  • headache,
  • nervousness,
  • weakness,
  • red and itchy eyes.

Another frequently used over-the-counter medication with antiallergic properties is cetirizineand, like loratadine, it works by blocking histamine. Unfortunately, similarly to loratadine, it can cause side effects that make driving difficult, e.g. drowsiness and fatigue.

Eye drops

Over-the-counter ophthalmic medications are often used to relieve symptoms of eye strain or allergy-related symptoms such as redness and itching. For this reason, some over-the-counter eye drops may contain substances similar to allergy medications.

Examples of such substances areketotifen and tetrysoline . In addition to local side effects such as eye irritation and watery eyes, they may affect psychomotor skills causing palpitations, headache, tremors, weakness, and increased blood pressure.

Remember to always read the leaflets of any medications, even those without a prescription, and pay particular attention to the section in the leaflet "Driving and using machines" before driving.

It is also important not to exceed the recommended doses of medications, because then the likelihood of side effects is much higher.

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