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Motion sickness is a sensation of wooziness. It usually occurs when you’re traveling by car, boat, plane, or train. Your body's sensory organs send mixed messages to your brain, causing dizziness, lightheadedness, or nausea. Some people learn early in their lives that they’re prone to the condition.
Motion sickness usually causes an upset stomach. Other symptoms include a cold sweat and dizziness. A person with motion sickness may become pale or complain of a headache. It’s also common to experience the following symptoms as a result of motion sickness:
Any form of travel, on land, in the air, or on the water, can bring on the uneasy feeling of motion sickness. Sometimes, amusement rides and children’s playground equipment can induce motion sickness.
Children between the ages of 2 and 12 are most likely to suffer from motion sickness. Pregnant women also have a higher likelihood of experiencing this kind of inner ear disturbance.
You maintain balance with the help of signals sent by many parts of the body — for instance, your eyes and inner ears. Other sensory receptors in your legs and feet let your nervous system know what parts of your body are touching the ground.
Conflicting signals can cause motion sickness. For example, when you’re on an airplane you can’t see turbulence, but your body can feel it. The resulting confusion can cause nausea or even vomiting.
Motion sickness resolves itself quickly and doesn’t usually require a professional diagnosis. Most people know the feeling when it's coming on because the illness only occurs during travel or other specific activities.
Several medications exist for the treatment of motion sickness. Most only prevent the onset of symptoms. Also, many induce sleepiness, so operating machinery or a vehicle isn’t permitted while taking these types of medications.
Frequently prescribed motion sickness medications include hyoscine hydrobromide, commonly known as scopolamine. An over-the-counter motion sickness medication is dimenhydrinate, often marketed as Dramamine or Gravol.
Most people who are susceptible to motion sickness are aware of the fact. If you’re prone to motion sickness, the following preventive measures may help.
Plan ahead when booking a trip. If traveling by air, ask for a window or wing seat. On trains, boats, or buses sit toward the front and try to avoid facing backward. On a ship, ask for a cabin at water level and close to the front or the middle of the vessel. Open a vent for a source of fresh air if possible, and avoid reading.
Sitting at the front of a car or bus, or doing the driving yourself, often helps. Many people who experience motion sickness in a vehicle find that they don't have the symptoms when they're driving.
It’s important to get plenty of rest the night before traveling and avoid drinking alcohol. Dehydration, headache, and anxiety all lead to poorer outcomes if you’re prone to motion sickness.
Eat well so that your stomach is settled. Stay away from greasy or acidic foods before and during your travels.
Have a home remedy on hand or try alternative therapies. Many experts say peppermint can help, as well as ginger and black horehound. Although their effectiveness hasn’t been proven by science, these options are available.
For pilots, astronauts, or others who experience motion sickness regularly or as part of their profession, cognitive therapy and biofeedback are possible solutions. Breathing exercises have also been found to help. These treatments also work for people who feel unwell when they even just think about traveling.
Written by: David Heitz
Medically reviewed on: Jun 06, 2016: Deborah Weatherspoon, PhD, MSN, CRNA, COI
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