Cough syncope is when a harsh coughing episode results in a temporary blackout due to increased pressure in the chest, which reduces blood flow to the heart and results in a drop in blood pressure.
It is classified as a neurological disorder by the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA), which states that anyone who suffers from it must notify them and cease driving.
With Covid-19 variants and the effects of Long Covid still affecting a proportion of the UK population, experts are warning anything that could result in a harsh coughing fit has the potential to make someone pass-out behind the wheel.
A study carried out last year by the Maria Vittoria Hospital in Turin, Italy, highlighted a case of a 75-year-old man who was hospitalised with Covid-19. He was discharged after three weeks’ treatment but five days later was readmitted following a syncope episode.
The DVLA groups cough syncope alongside other neurological disorders including epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease and transient global amnesia – which is a sudden, temporary interruption of short-term memory.
“Having experienced an episode or episodes of cough syncope, a person has identified themselves as being in a higher risk group that is predisposed to cough syncope. Therefore, even if the cough syncope episode occurred during a short-lived period of increased cough (such as an episode of acute respiratory infection), this would not alter the fact that the person is then at higher risk of experiencing an episode of cough syncope whenever they cough regardless of the cause. Treatment, management or resolution of the condition which caused the cough does not reduce the risk of syncope with further episodes of cough.”
It goes on to state that car and motorcycle drivers must not drive for six months following a single episode and 12 months following multiple episodes over five years.
Graham Conway, Managing Director of leading UK vehicle leasing firm Select Car Leasing, said:
“The onus is very much on drivers to make sure they are not suffering from any conditions that could impair their ability to safely navigate the roads. Cough syncope is one of the conditions not widely known to be on the DVLA’s list, and with the chance that Covid-related symptoms could bring on an episode it’s worth making as many people aware as possible that it could be an issue.”
In 2017 a truck driver in Ayrshire was cleared of blame for a tragic incident when an episode of cough syncope caused him to black out before colliding with a parked car and ploughing into a house, causing the death of a resident.
Kilmarnock Sheriff Court ruled that nothing could have prevented the accident.
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