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Driving Concerns

Help! Why can't I stop sneezing in the car every spring? Add to ...

I have terrible allergies this time of the year and they seem worse when I’m in the car. What can I do? Shouldn’t the cabin air filter be catching all the pollen? – Caitlin

Hay fever behind the wheel is nothing to sneeze at. A recent Dutch study showed that allergies can impair driving as much as a couple of drinks, and some antihistamines can make it even worse.

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“Individuals with either seasonal or perennial allergic rhinitis often are impaired, adversely affecting work and/or school performance,” says Dr. Jason Lee, a Toronto allergist and education director of clinical immunology and allergy at St. Michael’s Hospital. “This impairment can result from allergies itself and/or the treatment.”

In the study of 19 allergy sufferers by a team at Maastricht University, untreated allergy sufferers asked to do a memory test while driving showed levels of impairment similar to what’s seen with a .05 per cent blood alcohol limit.

Sore eyes, sniffling and trouble breathing can take your attention off the road. Plus, allergy season can mean less sleep at night, so allergy-plagued drivers are already more tired than usual.

Do your antihistamine homework

On top of that, first generation antihistamines like Benadryl and Chor-tripolon can cause drowsiness. And even when they don’t make you noticeably sleepy, they can still impair your driving, Lee says.

He says to choose second-generation antihistamines like loratidine, des-loratidine and cetirizine instead.

“They show some class variability regarding impairment but as a group are clearly less impairing than their first-generation predecessors,” Lee says. “Second-generation antihistamines are the preferred medication when antihistamines are necessary.”

Don’t go it alone, Lee says — if you’re not getting relief from allergy pills, get medical advice for other treatments.

“There are disease-modifying treatments available, meaning a possible cure for allergies, and it is best to have this discussion with a board-certified clinical immunologist and allergist,” he says.

Limits to filters?

Replacing a dirty air filter in the spring is a good idea, and there are specialized filters for pollen and allergies. But quality varies, Lee says.

“Pollen filters should help at least somewhat in decreasing the allergen burden for allergy sufferers,” he says. “But pollen exposure can occur when you’re walking to the car.”

One suggestion to keep pollen out of your eyes?

“Wrap-around sunglasses,” Lee says.

Right lane wrong?

I recently got a $283 ticket for passing on the right lane in Quebec. I was in the left fast lane and two cars in front of me were going less than 90 km / hour where the speed limit is 100km. I couldn't understand why they were driving so slow,so I simply went into the right lane and stayed there going exactly 100km because a police car was behind me. I passed them. The police then signalled me over and said I broke the law. — David

There’s no right to pass to the right in Quebec.

Section 346 of the Highway Safety Code says: “No driver of a road vehicle may pass another vehicle to the right, except where the vehicle being passed is turning left, is about to turn left, is moving toward an exit ramp on a limited access highway or is a snow removal or road maintenance vehicle doing work on the left-hand lane of a one-way roadway with two lanes or over.”

If you have questions about driving or car maintenance, please contact our experts at globedrive@globeandmail.com.

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