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Medications and Behind-the-Wheel Safety

Oct 31, 2018

Many people are not aware that their prescription drugs can impair their ability to drive safely. Unfortunately, this lack of awareness can be dangerous on the road.

Several types of medications can impair patients' ability to drive. These include but are not limited to medications used to treat depression, anxiety and pain, as well as sleeping pills. Other medications that can affect driving include stimulants and muscle relaxants.

Over-the-counter medications that can impair driving include some cold remedies, some allergy medications like diphenhydramine (the active ingredient in Benadryl), some antidiarrheals like loperamide (the active ingredient in Imodium), and some medications used to treat nausea, vomiting and dizziness from motion sickness.

These medications come with written warnings regarding the risks of driving, including the risk of drowsiness, but many patients may not be aware of these risks or may forget about the warnings.

Medication side effects other than drowsiness that may make it more difficult for you to drive a car safely include the following:

Blurred vision

Dizziness

Slowed movement

Fainting

Inability to focus or pay attention

Nausea

Also, side effects for one medication can change when taken in combination with other medications, especially new prescriptions. This is especially true for older adults for two reasons:

The older population takes more medicines than any other age group.

As you age, many changes happen in the body. Some of these changes can lead the elderly to face a higher risk of more medication side effects.

Tell your health care provider about all of your medications, including prescription drugs, over-the-counter medicines, and herbal and nutritional supplements. Always ask your pharmacist about the potential side effects of any medication you're taking, including whether it can affect your ability to drive.

If your medication affects your ability to drive, speak with your health care provider. In some cases, your doctor may reduce the dose or change the timing of the dose so you can take your medicine at bedtime. In other cases, your doctor may switch your medication to one that is non-drowsy.

When buying over-the-counter medications, look out for statements like “You may get drowsy” and “Marked drowsiness will occur.” Other statements to watch for include “Be careful when driving a motor vehicle or operating machinery” and “Do not drive a motor vehicle or operate machinery when using this product.”

Talk to your health care professional if you need help finding another medicine to treat your condition or problem.

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