Motion Sickness

Motion sickness is a common condition that happens when you’re in motion, like riding in a vehicle, while sitting still. It happens when your eyes, inner ear and body send conflicting messages to your brain. Symptoms include nausea, breaking out in cold sweat or headache. Fortunately, there are ways to prevent motion sickness or ease its symptoms.


What is motion sickness?

Motion sickness is a condition that happens when your eyes, inner ear and body send conflicting messages to your brain. You can develop the condition whenever your body is staying still but you’re being moved by a vehicle, like when you’re riding in a car or standing on a boat deck.

Some people get a kind of motion sickness while playing video games and virtual reality games (virtual motion sickness or VMS). Symptoms include nausea, breaking out in cold sweat or headache. Fortunately, there are ways to prevent motion sickness or ease its symptoms.


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Symptoms and Causes

Common motion sickness symptoms are nausea and vomiting, salivating a lot, fatigue, rapid breathing and sweating.
Riding in a vehicle or on a boat may cause motion sickness symptoms like nausea and vomiting, fatigue and rapid breathing.

What are the symptoms of motion sickness?

Motion sickness symptoms can develop slowly or appear all at once. Common symptoms include:

What causes motion sickness?

Motion sickness happens when your brain gets conflicting messages from the parts of your body that sense motion: your eyes, inner ear, muscles and joints. Here’s an example of how that happens when you’re riding in a vehicle:

  • Your eyes register movement because you see signs, trees and other stationary objects come into your line of sight and then drop out of sight. They send your brain a message that you’re moving.
  • Your inner ear and the nerve endings in your muscles and joints, which sense that you’re sitting still, send your brain a message that you’re not moving.
  • Your brain can’t process the conflicting messages, so you start to feel nauseated or sweaty.

What things trigger motion sickness?

You can have motion sickness anytime there’s confusion between your senses and your brain:

  • Amusement park rides.
  • Playing video games or immersive virtual reality games.
  • Riding in a vehicle, airplane or boat.

What are the risk factors for motion sickness?

The condition is more likely to affect children ages 2 to 12 than adults. Other risk factors are:


What are the complications of motion sickness?

In general, motion sickness doesn’t cause serious health issues. In some cases, however, people continue to feel nauseous and vomit even though they’re not doing things like riding in vehicles. Excessive vomiting can cause dehydration and low blood pressure (hypotension).

Diagnosis and Tests

How is motion sickness diagnosed?

There aren’t specific tests to diagnose motion sickness. A healthcare provider may do a physical examination and check your ears. They’ll ask about your symptoms and when they started.


Management and Treatment

How do I treat motion sickness symptoms?

You may not be able to make motion sickness symptoms go away, but the following tips may help you feel better:

  • Get some fresh air: If you’re in a vehicle, roll your window down. If you’re in a plane, direct air vents to blow cool air in your direction.
  • Redirect your gaze: If you’re reading, put your book, phone or tablet away and look at objects in the distance or the horizon.
  • Lie back: If you can, move your seat so it leans back and close your eyes.
  • Have a drink: Sipping ginger tea or ginger ale may settle your stomach.
  • Try something sweet: Peppermint or ginger candies may make you feel better.
  • Consider motion sickness glasses or bracelets: While there isn’t any published medical research showing special glasses or bracelets work, some people find the glasses and bracelets ease symptoms.
  • Take a break: If you play video or virtual reality games, step away from the game if you feel nauseated or have other virtual motion sickness (VMS) symptoms.


Can I prevent motion sickness?

You may not be able to avoid motion sickness, but a little planning goes a long way toward reducing the chance that you’ll have severe symptoms.

For example, find a seat that lets you face forward while you’re in transit. No matter how you’re traveling, where you sit may help. Below are seating suggestions for most types of travel:

  • 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.

What medications help prevent motion sickness?

There are over-the-counter medications that may prevent motion sickness symptoms:

  • Antihistamines: You may take an antihistamine for allergies, but they can also prevent motion sickness and ease symptoms. Dramamine® (dimenhydrinate) is an example of an antihistamine that may prevent motion sickness. But remember to use an antihistamine that causes drowsiness. 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 for 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 for adult use only.

Would it help to travel on an empty stomach?

Probably not. You can still feel nauseated even when there’s not much in your belly. It may help to take the following steps before you take off on your journey:

  • Drink plenty of water.
  • Prep your stomach by eating a light meal that includes low-fat and bland starchy foods.
  • Don’t smoke or drink beverages containing alcohol that may upset your stomach.

Outlook / Prognosis

What can I expect if I have motion sickness?

If you’re like most people, your motion sickness symptoms go away once you’re off the plane or boat or out of the car.

Living With

When should I see my healthcare provider?

Motion sickness isn’t a serious medical issue. But talk to a healthcare provider if you have:

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

A note from Cleveland Clinic

Motion sickness can make travel a miserable experience and take the fun out of playing a video game or an immersive virtual reality game. Fortunately, there are things you can do to prevent it or ease its symptoms. 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.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed on 04/08/2024.

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