What is motion sickness?
Motion sickness, also called seasickness, is a common disturbance of the inner ear. This is the area of the body that affects your sense of balance and equilibrium. Motion sickness happens when your brain receives conflicting messages about motion and your body's position in space. The conflicting messages are delivered from your inner ear, your eyes (what you see), your skin receptors (what you feel), and muscle and joint sensors.
For example, you might become airsick because your eyes cannot see the turbulence that is tossing the plane from side to side. Motion sickness can occur with any mode of travel: ship, plane, train, bus, or car.
What are the symptoms of motion sickness?
Symptoms of motion sickness include dizziness, sweating, nausea, and vomiting. Symptoms can strike suddenly, progressing from simply not feeling well to cold sweats, dizziness, and then vomiting.
Motion sickness is more common in women and in children 2-12 years old. People who suffer from migraine headaches are also more prone to motion sickness.
What can I do to prevent or minimize motion sickness?
If you know you have motion sickness or might be prone to it, consider this advice:
- On a ship: When making your reservations, choose a cabin in the middle of the ship and near the waterline. When on board, go up on deck and focus on the horizon.
- In an airplane: Request a window seat and look out the window. A seat over the front edge of the wing is the most preferable spot (the degree of motion is the lowest here). Direct the air vent to blow cool air on your face.
- On a train: Always face forward and sit near a window.
- In a vehicle: Sit in the front seat; if you are the passenger, look at the scenery in the distance. For some people, driving the vehicle (rather than being a passenger) is an instant remedy.
Other tips to prevent or minimize motion sickness:
- Do not read in a moving vehicle. If you are prone to motion sickness, reading is likely to make it worse.
- Get plenty of rest. Get a good night's sleep the evening before you travel. Being overtired can make you more susceptible to motion sickness.
- Avoid greasy or acidic foods. Avoid heavy, greasy, and acidic foods in the hours before you travel. These types of foods – such as coffee, orange juice/grapefruit juice, bacon, sausage, pancakes – are slow to digest, and in the case of coffee, can speed up dehydration. Better choices include breads, cereals, grains, milk, water, apple juice, apples, or bananas. Do not skip eating but do not overeat.
- Drink plenty of water to keep your mouth moist and urine light in color.
- Do not drink large amounts of alcohol the evening before you travel. Alcohol speeds up dehydration and generally lowers your body's resistance to motion sickness, if you are prone to it.
- Stand if you feel queasy. Stand up, if you can, and look out over the horizon. Despite what you might think, sitting or lying down actually may make you feel worse.
- Don't smoke and avoid others who smoke.
- Eat dry crackers. Dry crackers may help settle a queasy stomach.
- Use the seat head rest. Lean your head against the back of the seat or head rest when traveling in vehicles with seats to minimize head movements.
- Avoid others who have become nauseous with motion sickness. Seeing and smelling others who have motion sickness may cause you to become sick.
How is motion sickness treated?
Motion sickness can be treated with over-the-counter and prescription drug products.
- Over-the-counter products: Antihistamines are commonly used both to prevent and treat motion sickness. Antihistamines to consider for this purpose include meclizine (Antivert®, Bonine®), dimenhydrinate (Dramamine®), and diphenhydramine (Benadryl®). The side effect of these medications is drowsiness. Meclizine is much less sedating, making it a preferred treatment. Nonsedating antihistamines such as fexofenadine (Allegra®) are not effective in treating motion sickness.
- Prescription products: Scopolamine oral pills and skin patch (Transderm Scop®) is another option. The patch formulation is applied to the skin area behind the ear and can help prevent motion sickness for up to three days per patch. Scopolamine may create an annoying dry mouth side effect. Certain patients with glaucoma and other health problems should not use this drug. Be sure to tell your doctor of your existing health problems so that he or she can determine which drug is best suited for you.
Of the above drug products, only dimenhydrinate and diphenhydramine are recommended for use in young children.
Numerous nondrug options have been promoted as being helpful in relieving or preventing motion sickness. In most cases, the proof supporting these products is not as rigorous as that of approved drugs. However, you may want to try one of these options:
- Aromatherapy with ginger or lavender may help.
- Oral use of ginger or peppermint can sooth the stomach. Ginger, in pills or powder, is available in many herb or health food stores. Eating peppermint is also thought to be generally calming.
- Acupressure wristbands may prevent the feeling of nausea for some.