How to prevent motion sickness
Posted in Travel Health on February 26, 2012. Last modified on January 31 2018. Read disclaimer.
If you've spent much time on the water, you probably know the discomfort of motion sickness: the nausea, cold sweats, dizziness and, perhaps, vomiting. It's commonly called "sea sickness", but motion sickness can strike whether we're traveling by a car, train or airplane, thrill-seeking at an amusement park or even riding a horse.
And, it isn't a sign of weakness. Marines, Air Force pilots and most astronauts have to battle with it.
So, what causes motion sickness and how can it be prevented?
While it may feel like the contents of your stomach are being sloshed around, the problem is actually percolating a little higher up -- in your brain.
The brain receives constant updates from the eyes, liquid in the inner ear and muscles regarding the status of our body. And, in most cases those messages are consistent. When the brain receives conflicting information, however, such as our ears and muscles indicating movement when our eyes "say" we're stationary, the result can be motion sickness. Fortunately, once the mixed signals cease, the symptoms normally subside quickly.
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How to prevent motion sickness
Most importantly, try to minimize the amount of movement, and synchronize the messages coming from our senses:
- when traveling by ship: request a cabin near water level (where rocking is the least) and in the front or middle of the ship. When on deck focus on the horizon.
- when flying: request a seat over a wing (again, where the craft is most stable) and direct the air vent to blow toward your face.
- when traveling by car, bus or train: in a car or bus, sit in the front and try to keep air circulating. (obviously, if you're in a car, ask the driver to 1) avoid winding roads in favor of a straighter route and 2) pull over until you're feeling better.) In a train, sit in one of the front cars, always facing forward.
Other tips include:
- keep looking forword to the distant horizon. This helps your eyes to confirm what the other senses are telling your brain -- that you're moving. Avoid reading.
- avoid talking with, or watching, others who are experiencing motion sickness.
- avoid alcohol, smoking or sitting near smoker.
- try to keep your head still, such as resting it against a seat head rest.
- some people find that eating a light meal beforehand or snacking on crackers minimizes nausea. Others, however, report that this makes the situation worse. In any case, eating, or even smelling, spicy or greasy food should be avoided.
- drink Chamomile tea or a carbonated beverage like ginger ale to calm the stomach or prevent dehydration in the event of vomiting.
- try to distract your attention. Consider using essential oils or flavored throat lozenges.
- many people have found acupuncture or magnets to be helpful for reducing or preventing nausea. And you'll find pressure bracelets, developed specifically for motion sickness, available at the drugstore -- though the evidence behind them is not conclusive.
- tuck a leak-proof, plastic bag in your purse or pocket, just in case.
Pharmaceutical options include:
- Take an antihistamine such as Dramamine or Benadryl. Unfortunately, the least sedating antihistamine options appear to also be the least effective against motion sickness -- so expect fatigue. Other medications, both oral and Scopolamine prescription, press-on patches are also available for adults.
1) consult with a pharmacist or doctor before giving any of the medications to children -- since severe adverse reactions are possible. The Scopolamine patch should NEVER be given to children.
2) side effects may include fatigue (from the oral medications) as well as dry mouth and/or blurred vision (from the Scopolamine patch). Since individuals respond differently, you may want to do a test run of the medication ahead of time.
3) If taking the antihistamines or other medications, you'll need to be proactive. Most take an hour or so to take effect. The behind-the-ear patch should be applied 6-8 hours ahead of time. And, of course, pregnant women should consult with a physician before taking any medications.
Motion sickness mini quiz
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Motion Sickness. http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/yellowbook/2012/chapter-2-the-pre-travel-consultation/motion-sickness.htm
- Mayo Clinic: Motion Sickness First Aid.
- KidsHealth: Avoiding Motion Sickness. http://kidshealth.org/kid/talk/qa/motion_sickness.html
- Discovery News: NASA Mind Training Tackles Motion Sickness. http://news.discovery.com/autos/motion-sickness-nasa-space.html
- National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, National Institutes of Health: Ginger. http://nccam.nih.gov/health/ginger
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Motion Sickness
- http://www.merckmanuals.com/home/print/brain_spinal_cord_and_nerve_disorders/ dizziness_and_vertigo/motion_sickness.html
- Effects of ginger on motion sickness and gastric slow-wave dysrhythmias induced by circular vection. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12576305
- Wikipedia Food Detectives. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Food_Detectives
- MythBuster Results: Episode 43: Sea-sickness – Kill or Cure? http://mythbustersresults.com/episode43
All of the above references were accessed on Feb. 24, 2012