Motion Sickness

Written by David Heitz | Published on December 18, 2013
Medically Reviewed by George Krucik, MD, MBA on December 18, 2013

What Is Motion Sickness?

Motion sickness is a sensation of wooziness. It usually occurs when someone is traveling by car, boat, plane, or train. The body's sensory organs send mixed messages to the brain, causing dizziness, lightheadedness, and/or nausea. Some people learn early in their lives that they are prone to the condition.

Motion sickness frequently causes vomiting.

There are many prevention and treatment measures that can prevent or treat motion sickness.

What Causes Motion Sickness?

A person maintains balance with the help of signals sent by many parts of the body—for instance, the eyes and inner ears. Other sensory receptors in the legs and feet let the nervous system know what parts of the body are touching the ground. Conflicting signals can cause motion sickness. For example, an airplane traveler cannot see turbulence, but his or her body can feel it. The resulting confusion can cause nausea or even vomiting.

What Are Risk Factors for 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 3 and 12 are most likely to suffer from motion sickness (Medscape, 2013).

What Are the Symptoms of Motion Sickness?

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.

How Is Motion Sickness Diagnosed?

Motion sickness resolves itself quickly and does not 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.

Sometimes, pregnant women or people suffering from migraines are misdiagnosed as having motion sickness (Medscape, 2013).

How Is Motion Sickness Treated?

Several medications exist for people afflicted with motion sickness. Most prevent only the onset of symptoms. Also, many induce sleepiness, so someone who is operating a vehicle cannot take them.

Preventing Motion Sickness

Most people who are susceptible to motion sickness are aware of the fact. If you are prone to motion sickness, the following preventive measure may help:

Plan ahead when booking a trip. If traveling by air, ask for a window or wing seat. On trains, sit toward the front. On a ship, ask for a cabin close to the front or the middle of the vessel at water level (Mayo Clinic, 2011).

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 is important to get plenty of rest the night before traveling and avoid drinking alcohol. Dehydration, headache, and anxiety all lead to poorer outcomes for people prone to motion sickness.

Eat well so that your stomach is settled. Stay away from greasy or acidic foods during and prior to travel.

Have a home remedy on hand or try alternative therapies. Many experts say peppermint can help, as well as ginger and black horehound. Although not very well proved by science, homeopathic remedies do exist. For pilots, astronauts, or others who experience motion sickness regularly or as part of their profession, cognitive therapy and biofeedback have been solutions. Breathing exercises have also been found to help. These treatments also work for people who feel unwell when they merely think about traveling.

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