Classic hay fever symptoms, such as watery and swollen eyes, sneezing, and congestion, may not be just an annoyance, but a danger as well.
The Walloon Agency for Road Safety, citing a study conducted by the University of Maastricht, says that the effects of untreated hay fever on driving are the same as having a blood-alcohol level of 0.5 grams, or roughly two to three glasses of alcohol.
The ASWR also states that hay fever also stops people from getting a good night’s sleep, and therefore, makes drivers more drowsy and susceptible to distraction. Even the mere act of sneezing can make one less aware behind the wheel.
“When we sneeze, we close our eyes for a brief moment. This reflex mechanism is impossible to avoid, and can ‘blind’ the driver on average for three seconds, preventing them from seeing the road and reacting for a distance of about 100 metres at 120 kilometres per hour,” explains the AWSR.
Hay fever is the bane of many Belgians' existence. In the months of May to June, grass pollen, most commonly responsible for hay fever symptoms, affects one in six.
Even medicines taken to combat hay fever can have an adverse effect on our driving ability.
Antihistamines, commonly prescribed to treat the effects of hay fever, are “often accompanied by side effects, some of which are similar to the effects of hay fever on driving, such as drowsiness, dizziness, and light-headedness, and distraction.”
The ASWR has suggested several measures in order to reduce risks and “make road users aware of their vulnerability”, given the fact that “totally prohibiting driving when suffering from hay fever is difficult to envisage.”
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Belgians are asked to take appropriate medical treatments with them on road journeys, change vehicle pollen filters every 15,000 kilometres, ask mechanics to clean out air conditioning units, and regularly vacuum their vehicles.
While driving, hay fever sufferers should use car air conditioning, protect their eyes with glasses, avoid perfumes and smoking, and avoid parking their cars underneath highly pollinating trees or near fields in June.