Motion Sickness

Overview

What is motion sickness?

Motion sickness occurs when your brain can’t make sense of information sent from your eyes, ears and body. Lots of motion — in a car, airplane, boat, or even an amusement park ride — can make you feel queasy, clammy or sick to your stomach. Some people vomit. Being carsick, seasick or airsick is motion sickness.

Who might get motion sickness?

An estimated one in three people get motion sickness at some point. Women, and children age two to 12 are most at risk. Still, the condition can affect anyone.

These factors increase your chances of getting motion sickness:

Symptoms and Causes

What causes motion sickness?

Your brain receives signals from motion-sensing parts of your body: your eyes, inner ears, muscles and joints. When these parts send conflicting information, your brain doesn’t know whether you’re stationary or moving. Your brain’s confused reaction makes you feel sick.

For example, when riding in a car, your:

  • Eyes see trees passing by and register movement.
  • Inner ears sense movement.
  • Muscles and joints sense that your body is sitting still.
  • Brain senses a disconnect among these messages.

Many actions can trigger motion sickness, such as:

  • Amusement park rides and virtual reality experiences.
  • Reading while in motion.
  • Riding in a boat, car, bus, train or plane.
  • Video games and movies.

What are the symptoms of motion sickness?

Motion sickness can take you by surprise. You may feel fine one moment and then suddenly experience some of these symptoms:

Diagnosis and Tests

How is motion sickness diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider asks you to describe your symptoms and what brings on these symptoms. Your healthcare provider may also perform a physical exam and check your eyes and ears.

Management and Treatment

How is motion sickness managed or treated?

You have some options to prevent motion sickness or treat symptoms. Motion sickness treatments include:

  • Antihistamines: Commonly used to treat allergies, antihistamines can also prevent motion sickness and ease symptoms. Only antihistamines that cause drowsiness are effective. Nondrowsy formulas won’t help.
  • Patches: Scopolamine skin patches (Transderm Scop®) or oral pills prevent nausea and vomiting. You stick the patch behind your ear at least four hours before traveling. After three days, you remove the patch and apply a new one. This medication can cause dry mouth and is only approved for adults.

What are the complications of motion sickness?

Motion sickness doesn’t tend to cause serious problems. Rarely, some people can’t stop throwing up. Excessive vomiting can cause dehydration and low blood pressure (hypotension).

Prevention

How can I prevent motion sickness?

These actions can lower your chances of getting sick or ease symptoms if they occur:

  • Herbs: Breathe in soothing mint, ginger or lavender scents. Suck on hard candies made with peppermint or ginger.
  • Diet and drink: Drink plenty of water. Choose low-fat, bland, starchy foods before traveling. Avoid heavy meals and greasy, spicy or acidic foods that can upset your stomach. Don’t drink alcohol or smoke.
  • Fresh air: Direct air vents to blow toward you. And roll down windows in cars.
  • Distant gaze: Put down the phone, tablet or book. Instead, look at an object in the distance or at the horizon.
  • Lie back: Recline, if possible, and close your eyes.
  • Pressure points: Wear acupressure wristbands.

You should always face forward when traveling. Where you sit can also make a difference to minimize disruptive motion:

  • Boat: Sit in the middle of the boat on the upper deck.
  • Bus: Choose a window seat.
  • Car: Sit in the front passenger seat.
  • Cruise ship: Book a cabin toward the front or middle of the ship. If you can, choose one on a lower level, closer to the water.
  • Plane: Sit in the wing section.
  • Train: Choose a forward-facing window seat.

Outlook / Prognosis

What is the prognosis (outlook) for people who have motion sickness?

Motion sickness can make traveling stressful and unpleasant. But symptoms should go away when you stop moving.

Living With

When should I call a healthcare provider?

You should call your healthcare provider if you experience:

  • Chronic, persistent nausea or vomiting.
  • Motion sickness symptoms when you’re not involved in a moving activity.
  • Signs of dehydration.

What questions should I ask my healthcare provider?

You may want to ask your healthcare provider:

  • How can I prevent motion sickness?
  • What is the best treatment for motion sickness?
  • What are treatment side effects?

A note from Cleveland Clinic

Almost everyone feels motion sickness at some point. The queasiness and nausea may make you throw up. You can’t always escape the movement that’s making you sick, especially when traveling. If you’re prone to motion sickness, talk to your healthcare provider about ways to prevent getting sick and what to do if you get sick. You can take steps to have a better travel experience without the need for a barf bag.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 01/18/2021.

References

  • American Academy of Family Physicians. . Accessed 1/16/2021.Motion Sickness (https://familydoctor.org/condition/motion-sickness/)
  • American Academy of Pediatrics. . Accessed 1/16/2021.Car Sickness (https://www.healthychildren.org/English/health-issues/conditions/head-neck-nervous-system/Pages/Car-Sickness.aspx)
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. . Accessed 1/16/2021.Motion Sickness (https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/page/motion-sickness)
  • MedlinePlus. . Accessed 1/16/2021.Motion Sickness (https://medlineplus.gov/genetics/condition/motion-sickness/)
  • MedlinePlus. . Accessed 1/16/2021.Scopolamine Transdermal Patch (https://medlineplus.gov/druginfo/meds/a682509.html)
  • Merck Manual. . Accessed 1/16/2021.Motion Sickness (https://www.merckmanuals.com/home/injuries-and-poisoning/motion-sickness/motion-sickness)

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