If your summer plans include driving you could come across a new danger on the roads this year. Certain allergy medications might be affecting users behind the wheel.

“I was falling asleep, I had to pull over, I couldn’t drive,” Emily Polanco told CBS 2′s Kristine Johnson.

Polanco said she suffers from allergies, but her over-the-counter medication was creating a different problem for her.

“I have three small children. I have to take them to school. I cannot drive with them under those conditions,” she said.

Many over-the-counter medications can impair the body’s ability to operate a vehicle, according to medical experts.

“A lot of over-the-counter medications can cause fatigue, decrease awareness, and decrease reactive time, too,” explained allergy and asthma specialist Dr. Jennifer Collins.

Polanco said she decided that it was time to work with a specialist to find a balance between relief and feeling alert. Her doctor put her on a regimen of shots that provided a balance between relief and alertness.

“Greater than 90-percent relief, long term relief, and that’s what we’re looking for,” explained Dr. Clifford Basset, director of Allergy and Asthma Care of New York.

He stressed that many over-the-counter medications come with dangerous side effects, and that users should be aware of those side effects before taking medications.

“Decongestants may be associated with rapid heart rate, problems with glaucoma, and also blood pressure,” Dr. Basset said. “They don’t read the label and I’m concerned about what I call drowsy driving — people driving around taking antihistamines and so forth that are sedating.”

Highway safety experts told CBS 2 that in spite of hard data reflecting accidents caused by over-the-counter medications the problem is still serious.

“Police reports don’t even contain things that would talk about over the counter drugs. But we know from anecdotal information, hearing from doctors, and other personnel, law enforcement, what have you, things do happen,” said AAA spokesman Robert Sinclair.

To reduce the potential for these accidents AAA is offering a free service on its website to explain the side effects of various medications.

“We created the website Roadwise RX and you can put the medication in there and it will show you the affects on driving specifically,” Sinclair said. “You might think this drug is safe, but check it out anyway to be sure and that way you can be aware of any ill effects it might have on your driving.”

Health professionals emphasized that everyone should read labels before taking any type of medication.


June 17, 2013