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Driving at Risk – How OTC Drugs Can Make You An Unsafe Driver

A man holding a handful of pills while sitting at the steering wheel to illustrate how over-the-counter drugs can make you an unsafe driver.

You’re feeling awful. Your nose is stuffed up, your eyes itchy and tearing. It’s your allergies kicking in again. Relief is the only thing on your mind, so you grab your over-the-counter (OTC) allergy medication and gulp one down, ignoring you’re about to get into your car to run some errands. As long as you feel better, you don’t give any thought to the fact that your allergy medicine contains antihistamines. And, why should you? Which leads us to another question: Did you know that some over-the-counter medications can make you an unsafe driver by putting you at higher risk of an accident, which, in the short run, can raise your auto insurance rates?

What are antihistamines, anyway? Simply put, OTC allergy medications such as Benadryl and Zyrtec, among others, are antihistamines, which are used to suppress histamine-induced responses, such as a runny nose and watery eyes. Problem is – the human body also has histamine receptors in other areas, including the central nervous system and small intestines. The result of these antihistamines causes drowsiness or sedation, if not outright sleep. Needless to say, this can be extremely dangerous when you’re behind the wheel. While over-the-counter medications have warning labels, normally warning to use caution when driving or operating machinery, few of us bother to read those labels or heed their advice. Have an innocent alcoholic drink or two and you’ve multiplied the effects ten-fold…making you a possible calamity waiting to happen.

In addition to the drowsiness associated with antihistamines, other OTC medications, and especially the more powerful prescription medications, can produce temporary confusion or “brain fog”, leaving you with the feeling of extreme grogginess or being out of it. This spells trouble. Being at home experiencing these side effects is one thing, being behind the wheel of your car is another. You might forget to check the speedometer, look both ways before turning, or even blow past a stop sign, placing yourself or others in harm‘s way.

Use common sense. If you’re on prescription drugs that can come with major side effects, don’t drive. As for over-the-counter drugs, be aware that allergy meds are not the only ones to use caution with. Cough and cold medicines have many of the same qualities associated with antihistamines, the main one being drowsiness. Other symptoms might be impaired judgment, dizziness, blurred vision, and even confusion. But, the list of OTC medications and prescription drugs to be weary of doesn’t stop here. Below are numerous other meds to use with caution:

Diarrhea Medications – Stick with OTC anti-diarrheals such as Pepto-Bismol or Kaopectate as the safer alternatives because they may not cause drowsiness. Prescription versions, though stronger and possibly quicker acting, contain Lope amide, an “opioid receptor agonist” that affects the intestines. These can leave you dehydrated. Drowsiness and dizziness are rare, but can happen.

  • Narcotic painkillers – Depending on dosage, these drugs are very powerful. They can numb your pain…but, they can also numb your brain, impairing your judgment, as well as your ability to drive a car safely should you have to react quickly if a pedestrian or other car darts into your path.
  • Sleeping pills – You obviously would only take one at night to help you fall asleep, not right before you’re about to drive. However, the after effects can carry over to the next morning, leaving some people feeling groggy eight to ten hours after taking a sleeping pill. The best advice would be to wait for at least 12 hours before hitting the road.
  • Anti-depressants and anxiety medications – These prescription meds are designed to sedate you so you’re more capable of coping with everyday stressful events. Problem is – they have a tendency to make you feel a little “loopy,” confused or forgetful. Studies have shown an increased risk of traffic accidents in both elderly and young drivers.
  • Muscle relaxants – Suppressors of your central nervous system, the relief you get from back and shoulder pain will more than triple the likelihood of you getting into an accident. You can expect slower reactions and diminished ability to make critical decisions quickly.

Attention deficit drugs – If you suffer from ADD or ADHD, these can cause confusion and drowsiness. Hyperactivity can also occur in those individuals with the susceptibility. So beware.

If you use sound judgment whenever you’re prescribed a strong drug or purchase an over-the-counter medication that you know can adversely affect you, you’ll be a much safer driver by avoiding their use before getting into your car. It’s not worth the chance. Besides, it might just keep your car insurance rates down.

If you are paying too much for your car insurance, give Freeway Insurance a call at (800) 777-5620 or get a free car insurance quote online. Freeway can give you a personalized quote based on your needs and budget.

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