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Can you be sued for your allergies after a car accident?

April 22, 2014 by Steven M. Gursten

Yes, if side effects of antihistamines cause or contribute to a car accident

sneezing allergies car accident

According to the FDA, there’s a serious problem that’s getting very little publicity. So many people take common, over-the-counter drugs for allergies. After all, it’s allergy season, and some people are popping Benedryl and Claritin like M&M’s to stop itchy eyes and noses that run like a faucet.

Here’s the rub: Although it may seem hard to believe, your allergies could actually cause or contribute to a car accident – if you’re not careful with your allergy medication.

I’ve written about car accidents caused by the abuse of  legal prescription drugs, like sleeping or anxiety pills that cause drowsiness. The side effects of such legal prescription drugs can affect your driving – even the next day.

And while some people have no problem with the concept of legal prescription drugs causing a car accident, the same people harrumph with indignation at the “frivolous” suggestion that very common allergy medications can pose identical risks for causing or contributing to motor vehicle accidents.

Let’s start with what allergy medications do: Allergy meds contain antihistamines — drugs that counteract the sneezing, stuffy nose, watery eyes effect of histamines. Antihistamines help relieve many different types of allergies, including hay fever and food allergies.

But antihistamines can cause drowsiness.

Antihistamines can also  make you feel unfocused and slow your reaction time.  When driving a car, that can cause a double whammy.  It can delay your perception time, because you aren’t as focused on the road and other cars and people around you. And, when you need to do something like react suddenly by braking or turning your steering wheel, your reaction time can be delayed. With a car that’s traveling at 45 mph moving at 66 feet per second, even a couple seconds of delayed perception/reaction time could mean a car has now traveled over the length of a football field.

So people taking antihistamines should be especially cautious when getting behind the wheel.

According to Jane Filie, M.D., a medical officer at the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Division of Nonprescription Regulation Development:

  • You may experience slower reaction time, haziness, or mild confusion even if you don’t feel drowsy after taking a medication containing antihistamines.
  • Any of these reactions can negatively interfere with driving or operating heavy machinery.

What allergy medications cause drowsiness?

Information about whether an antihistamine medication can make you drowsy can be found in the product’s label. You can read the Drug Facts label of the medication to understand the warnings and directions.

A common antihistamine is diphenhydramine, sold as Benadryl.

Other  popular allergy drugs like cetirizine (Zyrtec) and loratadine (Claritin) may also cause drowsiness.

5 ways to protect yourself – before you cause a car accident!

  1. Always follow directions and read warnings on the packages of your allergy medications.  And if you are unsure, talk with your doctor.
  2. Understand that some antihistamines cause drowsiness, and you must exercise caution when driving or operating machinery.
  3. Do not drink alcohol, or take sedatives and tranquilizers while taking allergy medicines, as they may increase drowsiness.
  4. Know that some antihistamines take longer to work than others. You might feel the sedating effects of these medications for some time after you’ve taken them — in some cases, even the next day.
  5. Not all antihistamines have the same doses. If one antihistamine works for you, take note of the dosage and make sure you get the same type the next time.

Related information:

Tips to prevent drowsy driving car accidents

 – Photo courtesy of Creative Commons, by mcfarlandmo

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