For any problem that you may have, there’s likely a medication you can use to relieve the ailment. A quick trip to your grocery store or local pharmacy will present aisles filled to the ceiling with over-the-counter medications. Otherwise, your doctor can prescribe you stronger medications for the more serious problems that you may have.

However, there is new information emerging as a result of multiple studies about how dangerous it can be when taking these drugs and then driving. Some of the results show that some of the most common allergy medications may actually be worse than alcohol for driving performance.

The problem with these drugs is that you may not even notice any kind of impaired driving skill until it is too late. Reaction times and motor skills still take a significant hit with medications. Not to mention a drug can cause a sudden side effect that could cause you to become dizzy or lose consciousness and end in an accident. With alcohol, you at least feel the effects after a couple drinks and common sense tells you that you shouldn’t drive under those circumstances.

The FDA is in a difficult situation where they are having a tough time deciding what to do about the results of these studies. Certain measures must always be taken, which is evidenced by the warning-filled labels of any bottle of pills. You’ll find vague warnings such as “may cause drowsiness” next to the dosages.

In addition, many companies are getting much better at promoting that people be cautious without causing them much fear. Maybe someday the FDA will find a good balance of making the public more aware of the effects a drug has. The problem is that these companies are trying to sell more and more of their product, which means some of them are only looking for more sales rather than safety. At the end of it all, you will still find that the companies at least warn you to avoid alcohol — which exacerbates some side effects — and to be extra careful while driving.

What to Look out For

One of the biggest causes of concern are the active ingredients in allergy medications known as antihistamines. There are many types, but some of the most common are listed below:

  • Clemastine
  • Chlorpheniramine
  • Brompheniramine
  • Diphenhydramine
  • Doxylamine

All of the popular brands on the store shelves (Benadryl, Sudafed, etc.) have antihistamines. However, that doesn’t mean the ingredient is only in allergy medications. It is often in cough medicines, cold/flu tablets, and almost any drug that claims to help someone rest.

The main thing to keep in mind is that you must exercise extreme caution so you don’t drive while impaired. If you’re sick, you may still be going to work on medications, which means you’re driving. It doesn’t take long to fall asleep when drowsy in a vehicle, and trying to stay awake can be a huge effort in some cases.

Therefore, if you start to feel yourself getting drowsy, you should pull over. You may be saving your life or the life of someone else. If you have any other bizarre symptoms, you should talk to your doctor or simply call in to work and rest up.

When having a prescription filled, be sure you know all of the side effects of the drug and know if you are able to drive after taking it. It’s much better to be overly safe than to end up in a serious car accident due to the side effects of a drug.

It’s important to read the fine print when taking any kind of prescription drug for allergy treatment, anxiety, high blood pressure, depression, or cholesterol. These drugs can be quite potent, especially when taken in combination with alcohol.

For more information about over-the-counter and prescription drugs in the US, visit the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research (CDER).