Motion sickness is a loss of equilibrium that occurs when people travel in a car, bus, boat, train, airplane, or amusement park ride. The problem is common among children between the ages of 2 and 12. Though adults can also get motion sickness, their more mature nervous systems are better able to deal with the effects of movement. Some children are especially susceptible, so that they usually become motion sick each time they travel in a vehicle.
Symptoms of Motion Sickness
- Increased salivation
- Nausea and vomiting
- Spinning sensation
- Loss of appetite
- Depression and apathy
- Feeling of body warmth
What Causes Motion Sickness?
What causes motion sickness is mixed signals to the brain—a discrepancy between what the eyes see and what the body senses. The problem resides in the inner ear, which has fluid moving in its semicircular canals to monitor the directions of motion. Certain movements, such as the rolling of a ship or air turbulence in a plane during a flight, stimulate these fluids, while at the same time the eyes are focused on rapidly moving scenery instead of a stable horizon. The brain receives messages from nerves affected by this imbalance, and in turn the brain sends a message to the stomach, resulting in nausea and possibly vomiting.
What If You Do Nothing?
While motion sickness isn’t usually a health problem, it is often uncomfortable and can interfere with a trip. If you (or a child) are susceptible, the likelihood of motion sickness during travel is high. So it’s best to focus on preventing symptoms before you set out.
Home Remedies for Motion Sickness
Once you begin to feel ill, there is not a lot you can do for relief from motion sickness, apart from getting to solid ground.
- Take care of the nausea. Lie down in a dark room with a cool cloth over your forehead and eyes. Have a pan handy in case you vomit.
- Replace fluids. If you have vomited, you want to avoid becoming dehydrated. Take sips of clear fluids until your stomach settles down.
- Herbal remedies may help but are unproven. Ginger is the herb most touted to ease motion sickness. There is little solid scientific evidence that it works, but at least it won't make you sleepy or dry out your mouth. You can buy ginger capsules at the store, or eat candied ginger. Peppermint is also popular—and pleasant. But keep in mind that large doses of raw ginger or peppermint oil can irritate the stomach lining as well as the mouth.
It’s easier to prevent motion sickness than to treat it once it begins.
- Start with medication. If you always suffer from motion sickness, the best plan is to try medication. Some over-the-counter antihistamines have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for motion sickness. The active ingredients are antihistamines: cyclizine (Marezine and generic brands); dimenhydrinate (Dramamine and generics); diphenhydramine (Benadryl and generics); and meclizine (Bonine and generics). In studies, these drugs have been similarly effective in preventing overall symptoms of motion sickness. Start taking your chosen drug 30 to 60 minutes before you leave. Remember that each of these drugs may cause drowsiness.
- Be vigilant concerning food and drink. Eat something before your trip, but don’t eat a lot. Fruit juice and toast, for example, may be all that you need. Avoid eating heavy meals and drinking alcohol before traveling. Also, avoid intake of dairy products and spicy, fatty and salty foods.
- Sharpen your focus. In a boat or in a car, be sure to focus on the horizon or some other fixed point in the distance. In a plane, sit by a window and look outside. This way your eyes will see the same motion that your body and inner ears feel.
- Choose your spot wisely. In a car, van, or train, be sure to have a seat that gives you a clear view of the road ahead; do not sit in a seat facing backward. In a plane, choose a window seat over the wings, where you will experience the least motion. At sea, stay amidships and topside. Choose a spot where there is good ventilation. Also, limit your head movements.
- Avoid strong odors from food, tobacco, or perfume. Such smells can induce or increase nausea.
- Choose amusement park rides carefully. Avoid rides that spin.
- Don’t read. Trying to focus on the page or on the screen of a laptop computer while your inner ear is jiggling may be enough to trigger motion sickness.
- Kids can wear pressure bracelets that are available in the drugstores.
- Get enough rest. The more exhausted you are, the more you will experience motion sickness.
- For severe motion sickness, consider the ReliefBand. This is a device approved by the FDA for combating nausea. You strap it to the inside of your wrist, and it delivers mild electrical stimulation to nerves in the area, which in theory controls nausea. No one knows exactly how it works, and it may not work for everyone, but some pilots have used the product against airsickness. Models can cost from $85 to $100, and are sold over the counter in drugstores as well as on the Internet.
Beyond Home Remedies: When To Call Your Doctor
Motion sickness is usually an inconvenience rather than a health problem. However, if you travel regularly and are often disturbed or incapacitated by it, contact your physician.
What Your Doctor Will Do
Your doctor may prescribe an antinausea medication called scopolamine (Transderm Scop). Administered by a dime-size skin patch that’s placed behind the ear a few hours before beginning a trip, the medication is highly effective. It can have such side effects as dry mouth, blurry vision, and drowsiness. The drug is not recommended for children. You can also ask your doctor or pharmacist about the ReliefBand.
The Complete Home Wellness Handbook
John Edward Swartzberg, M.D., F.A.C.P., Sheldon Margen, M.D., and the editors of the UC Berkeley Wellness Letter
Updated by Remedy Health Media