It’s that time of year again – cold and flu season. Most of us will likely experience one or even several colds this winter season. Instead of burning through vacation and sick time, however, many Americans will pop over-the-counter (OTC) medications in an attempt to curb unpleasant cold and flu symptoms so they can continue to be productive at work. But you should be wary of driving while sick, because many of these medications can have serious side effects that can make driving dangerous.
In fact, driving with a cold can be just a dangerous as driving drunk and motorists’ driving skills can drop by up to 50% when they are driving while sick! This is a form of drugged driving and it can cause serious and sometimes fatal car accidents. In 2014, the Food and Drug Administration cautioned that taking medicine with a side effect that causes drowsiness can add to fatigue you may already be feeling and can significantly impair your driving skills.
Most OTC medications can cause severe drowsiness and dizziness and warning labels on the box even caution not to drive while operating heavy machinery. Unfortunately, many drivers do not heed these warnings and take OTC medications throughout the day – then head into rush hour traffic. If the label on your medication causes sleepiness, blurred vision, or dizziness – you should absolutely consider not driving.
In order to determine if your OTC medication is safe to use while driving, look for such statements as “you may get drowsy”, “marked drowsiness will occur” or “do not drive a motor vehicle or operate heavy machinery when using this product”. These types of statements mean that the medication you are considering using will likely impair your driving ability.
In addition, some OTC medications cannot be taken in combination with other OTC medications or prescription medications or their side effects will be worsened. If you are unsure if your medication could cause impaired driving, ask a pharmacist. They will be able to recommend an alternative OTC medication that may not impact your ability to drive. Also, watch how much cold medication you take and when you take it. If a particular medication, such as Benadryl, makes you drowsy, consider taking it at night instead of when you wake up.
Some of the most common OTC medication that cause impaired driving, include but are not limited to:
In order to protect yourself and everyone on the road around you, consider the following steps:
- Talk to your doctor about all the medications you are taking to ensure that they do not interact poorly with each other.
- Never combine alcohol and medications
- Take medications at prescribed levels
- Space out medications throughout the day if possible
- Talk to your pharmacist about OTC interactions
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