Motion Sickness

If you've ever been sick to your stomach while riding in a car, train, airplane, or boat, you know exactly what motion sickness feels like.

What is it?

Motion sickness is the unpleasant sensation of nausea and dizziness that some people experience when riding in a moving vehicle. Motion sickness can be brought on by travelling in cars, boats, submarines, aeroplanes, trains, by riding amusement rides that spin, and even when using a swing at a playground. Astronauts in zero-gravity space can also suffer from a form of motion sickness, called ‘space adaptation syndrome’.

Children between the ages of four and 12 years are particularly prone to motion sickness. Symptoms can range from mild to serious. Frequent vomiting can lead to dehydration and low blood pressure, so it is important to seek prompt medical attention if you are severely affected. Motion sickness is also known as travel sickness. Other popular terms depend on the mode of transport: for example, airsickness, carsickness or seasickness.

What causes it?

Travel or motion sickness is caused by movement in different directions, particularly when the individual is sitting or standing still in a moving vehicle, boat, or plane.

It can also happen when there is a loss of visual contact with the outside horizon or due to pressure changes in the inner ear during air travel.

These events may cause confusion in the balance center of the inner ear, leading to fatigue, nausea, dizziness and even vomiting. It is not known why some people are more prone to motion sickness than others. While children may eventually outgrow motion sickness as their perceptual abilities mature, some people suffer the symptoms throughout their lives.

What are the symptoms?

  • Generally feeling unwell
  • Excessive production of saliva
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Hyperventilating
  • Heavy sweating
  • Weakness
  • Losing colour in the face or turning red
  • Vomiting.

Are there any natural therapies?

There has been enough research performed to suggest that the herb ginger to be useful in both preventing and treating mild to moderate motion sickness. Taken in most forms prior to travelling will help ease motion sickness.

What else can I do?

  • Watch the scenery going by, so that your eyes confirm the sensation of motion picked up by your inner ear. This may mean, for example, being out on deck at sea. However, don’t fix your gaze on individually moving objects, such as each rolling wave – just scan generally.
  • Position yourself where you will experience the least motion: for example, over the wings in an aeroplane or in the dead centre of a ship.
  • If possible, drive the vehicle. Passengers in moving cars are more likely to experience motion sickness than drivers.
  • The larger the vehicle, the less susceptible it is to motion so, if possible, try to travel on a ship rather than a small boat, for instance.
  • Keep your head still. Moving your head around will ‘swirl’ the fluid in your canals and add to the sensory confusion.
  • Some people find that closing their eyes is the best way to eliminate sensory confusion.
  • Lying down on your back allows the fluid in the ear canals to pool, rather than swirl around.
  • Cut back on, or eliminate, alcoholic drinks and don’t have any alcohol for 24 hours before travelling.
  • Make sure you have plenty of fresh air. Fumes or smoke can exacerbate symptoms.
  • On brief journeys, try not to eat or drink anything.
  • On long journeys, eat and drink sparingly and often.
  • Anxiety worsens symptoms. Use relaxation techniques such as abdominal breathing or an absorbing book or hobby to counteract the effect of worrying. If your anxiety is severe, you could consider professional counselling.

Did you know?

If a person with motion sickness doesn’t stop moving, they will start vomiting. Eventually, dehydration, exhaustion and a dangerous drop in blood pressure can occur. However, if a person is exposed to motion for an extended period – for example, during a long journey by sea – their body and brain will adapt in time to the constant motion and will no longer trigger episodes of sickness.