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   Cold / Flu / Driving

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By George Guevara

     Most everyone knows the dangers of drinking and driving, but relatively few understand that driving mixed with some over-the-counter cold remedies poses just as great a hazard.  Now, that cold and flu season is upon us, with many of us running to the drugstore for relief, we must consider that many of these medications contain antihistamines, drugs that can severely impair a personís ability to drive a motor vehicle.  Millions of people nationwide take antihistamines to prevent the itchy eyes and runny nose caused by Ďhistamine,í which is a potent chemical released by the cells in the eyes and nose in reaction to pollen or other allergies.

      We need to remember that most antihistamines temporarily affect certain receptors in the brain, causing drowsiness.  Needless to say, mixing any of these antihistamines, even with a small amount of alcohol can magnify the effects.  Driving under the influence of antihistamines is not only dangerous but also illegal, especially if it is impairing the ability to drive.

     Deputies who enforce D.U.I. (Driving under the influence) laws, will detain any driver who appears impaired.  They typically will check for oneís slow pupil reaction to light and performance during field sobriety tests.  Depending on these results, chemical tests of blood and urine can be taken to identify the specific drug.                                     A person who is charged with D.U.I. of drugs is subject to a fine, suspension of his or her driverís license- even jail.  The penalties are the same as those for a first-time D.U.I. offender- a fine of $1,236.00. 

     There is hope, however, and you donít have to give up your medicine during the cold, flue and hay fever season.  There are at least four prescriptions that donít cause drowsiness:  Claritin, reactine, Hismanal and seldane.  Their only drawback is that they are about three times more expensive than the basic over-the-counter medication.

     Decongestant consumers need to look at the ingredients carefully.  Many decongestants are combined with antihistamines.  A few examples include Sudafed Plus, Chlor-Trimmeton Sinus, and Dristan Cold and Flu.  But, as with any medication, consult your doctor before taking any of these to learn of any possible side effects. 

     A warning label is required on any product containing antihistamines indicating whether it may cause drowsiness and warn the consumer to use care when driving or operating machinery or to avoid these types of activities altogether.  So, whatís the point here?  If youíre driving, take care when taking that cold or flu medication.  It could make the difference between a safe journey or a tragic mishap.



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