AUSTIN -- Sneezing, itchy, watery eyes are among the negative symptoms associated with allergies. As if that's not bad enough, now a new study says pollen allergies can impair your driving to the point where you compare to drivers with a blood alcohol content of .03.
On any given day, thousands of people visit Austin's hike and bike trails for some exercise. Some arrive suffering from seasonal allergies.
"When I have allergies, I'm sneezing with itchy, watery eyes, so I don't feel like I drive very well," said Abby Pell, who suffers from seasonal allergies.
Pell's assessment is spot on, according to a Netherlands study. Researchers focused on tree and grass pollen allergy sufferers. Some in the study were given non-drowsy antihistamines or nasal sprays while others were given nothing. All then took a 60 minute driving test. The study found that the drivers who got behind the wheel with just their allergy symptoms fared far worse. They were comparable to drivers with a .03 blood alcohol content.
"I was surprised," said Albert Gros, M.D., the chief medical officer at St. David's South Austin Medical Center. "When I thought of a connection between an allergy and impaired driving, my first thought was that antihistamines that we all take were the culprit. Most of who suffer from allergies just generally don't feel well. It's almost a malaise. It's almost a flu like syndrome that some of us get when we have it. They feel like they're running a fever. They're achy. They have trouble concentrating."
Gros says when your body reacts to an allergen, it's liberating compounds called histamines that can influence other parts of the body, including the brain. We take antihistamines to combat or counteract that influx of histamine. Back on the trails, allergy sufferers say the study's findings make sense.
"No, I don't find it surprising at all, because allergies affect my sleep," said Toni McClelland, who suffers from seasonal allergies.
"Driving is about the way you feel," said Keith Robinson, who suffers from seasonal allergies. "If the medication is particularly effective, people could have more clarity. People would be sneezing less, for instance, things that distract from driving."
Study participants were also given memory tests. Again, those given no medication for their symptoms fared worse. Gros says antihistamines that make you drowsy will also cause some degree of impairment.