UI study: first-generation antihistamine has more impact than alcohol on driving performance

[Editors: Dr. John Weiler will be out of town March 2 - 8. He will be available by phone for interviews during that time; however, he will be available locally at certain times Feb. 28 - March 1. To receive a copy of the journal article mentioned in the release, contact the American College of Physicians -American Society of Internal Medicine at (215) 351-2656.]

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- A medication commonly found in over-the-counter cold and allergy remedies may cause more driving impairment than being legally drunk. University of Iowa researchers made the finding by studying the driving performance of people who had hay fever and were given diphenhydramine (Benadryl), fexofenadine (Allegra), alcohol and a placebo.

The subjects' performance, tested in the Iowa Driving Simulator, was poorest after taking diphenhydramine, even poorer than when they were legally drunk. In comparison, performance after taking fexofenadine was comparable to performance after taking the placebo, an inactive substance.

The UI investigators were the first to compare the two medications and alcohol in individuals driving in a high-fidelity driving simulator. The findings will appear in the March 7 issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine.

"First-generation antihistamines, such as diphenhydramine, are known to affect driving performance. However, we were surprised to find that this antihistamine has more impact on driving performance than alcohol does," said John M. Weiler, M.D., UI professor of internal medicine and the study's lead author. "In contrast, we found that fexofenadine, or Allegra, a second-generation antihistamine, did not impair driving performance."

Weiler added that participants could not predict their driving impairment based on how drowsy they felt.

"Drowsiness was only weakly associated with minimum following distance, steering instability and crossing into the left lane," he said. "These results suggest

Contact: Becky Soglin
University of Iowa

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