Allergies, Antihistamines and Drowsiness

I don’t know about you, but my vehicle has a layer of yellow pollen on it.  It’s that time of year and I hear constant sounds of sneezing throughout many offices.  Hay fever can make those who are sensitive to pollen miserable, interfering with work and play.  Fortunately, modern medicine has developed drugs which give temporary relief from hay fever’s common symptoms.  As users of antihistamines and decongestants know, however, there are side effects to these over-the-counter drugs.  The side effect most often experienced is drowsiness.

A survey of allergy sufferers was conducted several years ago.  It found that the package warnings against driving or operating heavy machinery while taking the medicine are largely ignored.  If you think about it, this shouldn’t be surprising-since people take the medication so that they can continue with their normal activities, and they attempt to do so.

We hope that people will be aware of the drowsiness problem and watch out for it while working or driving.  However, a recent article indicates this is not the case.  A University Medical Center research team conducted an allergy workshop and concluded that most workers who are trying to control their allergies with over-the-counter drugs are not aware that they are sedated.  In addition to feeling drowsy, other side effects of being sedated are: reduced coordination, slowed reaction time and, impaired judgment.  These may be even less recognizable than drowsiness, but any of this can happen when a person is not fully alert.  The use of allergy medication can also affect one’s ability to focus on the work to be done by causing dizziness, nervousness, nausea or headaches.

Working in a hazardous industry is dangerous enough in itself.  You must be alert at all times and able to react to production issues, recognize safety hazards, and be an asset to the crew.  So what can be done to reduce the discomfort of hay fever season, yet keep you effective at work?  The following tips may be helpful:

  • Consider taking the medication for only significant allergy attacks-particularly if your job involves operating machinery or power tools.
  • If you need the medicine, take the smallest dose possible that will still provide a level of relief that you need.
  • Before taking the medication, read not only the warnings on the outer package, but also the product insert.  This small piece of paper, with equally small print, usually has much more detailed information about the product and possible side effects.
  • Follow the recommended dosage.  More is not necessarily better.  Taking “extra doses” may only provide more side effects-and not more relief.

Finally, if you have any questions about allergy medication, ask your doctor or pharmacist.  Some products may be less troublesome than others.  Spring allergies can be very uncomfortable, but an incident or injury could bring an even greater problem into your life.

STS Solutions, Inc. believes that your workplace can be incident free.  Solutions that Empower Safe Working Environments.  Find us at