With temperatures in the UK hitting 38.1C last month – the second hottest day on record – it’s safe to say that the British summer is in full swing. But while most of us can’t wait to get outside to make the most of the sunshine, for others, the hot weather causes misery.
According to Allergy UK, between 10% and 30% of all adults suffer from hay fever in the UK, making day-to-day activities like driving, a nightmare. In fact, a recent study revealed that more than half of patients believe their hay fever symptoms - which can include a runny nose, watery eyes, painful headaches and constant sneezing - has impacted their sleep, leading to daytime fatigue, drowsiness and a decreased ability to think clearly, all of which can be dangerous when out on the road.
So how can hay fever sufferers manage their symptoms to ensure they stay safe on the road? To help you better cope with your hay fever symptoms whilst behind the wheel, Nationwide Vehicle Contracts has put together ten top tips for driving with hay fever.
Hay fever is an allergic reaction to pollen so if you’re planning a journey during hay fever season (March to September) be sure to check the Met Office pollen forecast before you leave. The pollen forecast provides an early warning of when the pollen count is predicted to be high, helping to minimise your exposure to pollen and therefore ease symptoms.
It’s useful to know that, depending on the time of year, the type of pollen in the air will be different. Most hay fever sufferers are allergic to grass pollen, which is most common in late spring and early summer. Tree pollen tends to be released during spring and affects around 25% of people, whereas weed pollen can be released at any time from the early spring to the late autumn.
If you suffer from hay fever every year, start your medication early to keep your symptoms under control. Holly Shaw, a nurse adviser at Allergy UK says taking hay fever medication early is key to achieving maximum effectiveness when pollen levels peak. She also stresses the impact pollen can have on those with asthma, 80% of whom will also have hay fever. If you need advice on medication, speak to your GP or your local pharmacist.
If you are taking an over-the-counter or prescription drug for your hay fever symptoms, be sure to check the information leaflet that comes with it before getting behind the wheel. Certain antihistamines and hay fever medications can cause you to fail the driving drug test which can not only impair your ability to drive safely, but also land you with a hefty fine.
“If you are stopped by the police after taking a hay fever remedy and driving whilst impaired you could find yourself falling foul of drug driving regulations” advises Richard Gladman, IAM RoadSmart’s Head of Driving and Riding Standards. “Be sure to check the medication thoroughly and see if it is suitable. But most importantly, concentrate on your route to recovery so you can get back onto the road sooner rather than later.”
Many hay fever sufferers find their symptoms flare up while in their car so it is important to give your car’s interior a good clean before you set off on your trip. Pollen particles can easily get inside vehicles through open windows or the air conditioning/heating systems so remove trapped dust and pollen by ensuring your car is clean and dust free.
Get your vacuum cleaner out and give all the carpets and upholstery a good once-over. Dust any surfaces, such as the dashboard, doors and windows.
Most cars built in the last 20 years will likely come with a cabin or pollen filter fitted to the ventilation system to keep the air coming through your air conditioning vent clean and free of debris. However, like many other filters fitted to your car, pollen filters often have a short life and can stop working if they become clogged up.
To ensure your pollen filters stay effective, ensure you change your air filters regularly – at least once every 12,000 miles or earlier if the pollen counts are higher. High street motoring retailers such as Halfords usually stock replacement filters, or you can ask at your local garage if you are unsure of what to order or need help fitting it.
This might sound like an obvious one but if you are suffering from hay fever symptoms whilst in the car, be sure to keep your car windows closed. Closing your windows not only helps prevent pollen from being directly blown into the cabin, but also from flying into your eyes and impairing your vision.
If the temperature in the car is too warm, consider setting the air conditioning in recycle model to make use of air re-circulation where possible and reduce the pollen concentrations in your vehicle. Don’t forget to give air vents a good blow through with cold air when you are not in the car to remove any dust that may be in them.
A runny nose, watery eyes and constant sneezing are all symptoms of hay fever so be sure to keep a box of tissues close by to avoid taking your eyes off the road. Putting a few dabs of Vaseline inside your nostrils can also aid in trapping pollen. Wearing sunglasses can also help but make sure they don’t have a negative impact on your vision, especially through windows which are already tinted.
While hay fever does not need to be reported to the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA), under the rules of The Highway Code, you must be fit to drive your vehicle. This means that you are feeling unwell, are particularly tired or if your eyes are extremely watery, consider whether you feel safe to drive. You must take responsibility for assessing your own fitness to drive when you are experiencing symptoms so if you think your driving could be impaired, leave the car behind and consider alternative travel arrangements.
For drivers, sneezing and irritated eyes can be a major distraction. A single sneeze can cause you to lose control of your car, putting you in real danger and increasing your risk of being involved in an accident.
When out on the road, slow down and keep a safe distance from the car in front. If you think you’re going to sneeze, find a safe place to stop and give yourself enough time to recover before setting off on your journey again.
Finally, if you don’t need to be out on the road, leave the car behind and find alternative travel arrangements. If you’ve driven to work but don’t feel well enough to drive home, see if a colleague or someone you know can take you home again.
MEDICAL DISCLAIMER: The information provided is intended for general information and educational purposes ONLY and is not intended to be a substitute for advice provided by a doctor or other qualified healthcare professional.