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Allergy season reminder: you can be DWI on simple antihistamines

If you have an allergy like hay fever, it can sometimes seem that you can't breathe, see or concentrate. Symptoms of hay fever often include not only a stuffy or runny nose but itching, redness and watery eyes. Many people feel so bad that they don't want to leave the house, much less drive a car, while others do fine with an over-the-counter allergy medicine like Benadryl, Zyrtec or Claritin.

Before you grab some allergy medicine from a store shelf, you need to be aware that it may cause serious drowsiness. In fact, according to the Food and Drug Administration, most of them can make you so drowsy it's no longer safe to drive. And, if you cause an accident because of one of these medications, the police may treat it just like a drunk driving accident.

The allergy drug diphenhydramine, which is sold as Benadryl, is so yawn-inducing that some hospitals give it to patients who can't get to sleep. While many allergy drugs are meant to be more appropriate for daytime, the FDA says that both Zyrtec (cetirizine) and Claritin (loratadine) can also cause drowsiness so serious it interferes with driving.

The key to avoiding a potentially tragic DWI accident caused by allergy medication is to read the label carefully. Generics and brand-name drugs are chemically the same, but there are important differences between one drug and another. Zyrtec might not cause drowsiness in some people who get sleepy taking Claritin, for example.

When you find a medication that works, write down which one it was and what dosage you were taking -- and don't take another dose if it doesn't seem to be working. Doctors say that if the proper dose isn't effective more will almost never help, but it could increase drowsiness.

It may seem obvious when talking about avoiding DWI accidents, but you should never mix alcohol, sleeping pills or tranquilizers with your allergy medicine if you plan to drive. You shouldn't take any of those medications before driving under any circumstances, but especially not when you're already taking an allergy drug.

Even if you never drink, you can still be charged with DWI if a medication you're taking interferes with your driving skill. This allergy season, stay healthy and drive safely.

Source: CBS News, "FDA: Allergy medications may make you too drowsy to drive," Ryan Jaslow, June 1, 2013

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