(Air Sickness; Car Sickness; Sea Sickness)
Motion sickness is characterized by symptoms such as nausea and vomiting that are caused by repeated or extreme motion. It can affect your sense of balance, equilibrium, and spatial orientation.
Balance and equilibrium are maintained by an interaction among the inner ears, the eyes, pressure receptors on the skin, and motion receptors in the muscles and joints. Motion sickness results when conflicting messages regarding spatial orientation and motion of the body are sent to the central nervous system. For example, reading a book while riding in a car may cause your eyes to send different messages than your ears regarding motion.
Central Nervous System
A risk factor is something that increases your chance of getting a disease or condition. Risk factors for motion sickness include:
- Age: children
- Family members who get motion sickness
- Long or rough car, boat, plane, or train rides
- Amusement park rides
- Anxiety or fear
- Smoke or fumes
- Poor ventilation
- Having a minor illness, hangover, overeating, or overtiredness in the 24 hours before travel
The most common symptoms include:
- Upset stomach
- Nausea or vomiting
Other symptoms include:
- Tiredness or sleepiness
- Cold, clammy feeling
- Feeling faint
- Loss of color, especially in the face
Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history, and may perform a physical exam. Motion sickness is a clinical diagnosis based on symptoms that occur during motion.
Symptoms of motion sickness usually subside soon after the motion stops. However, in some people, the symptoms can last a day or more. The main treatment for motion sickness is rest.
Medications may be given rectally or intravenously to help control vomiting. If motion sickness is prolonged, it is important to provide adequate fluids in order to prevent dehydration . These may be given intravenously if necessary.
Strategies to prevent motion sickness include:
Medications that prevent motion sickness should be taken at least one hour before you begin a trip or ride. Side effects that the medications commonly cause often include drowsiness and lack of alertness or trouble concentrating.
- Oral antihistamines—work by calming excess stimulation of the inner ear
- Scopolamine patch—applied to the skin behind the ear. It works slowly over a period of about three days.
- Oral sedatives or tranquilizers—may be available by prescription for people who suffer severe or recurrent motion sickness
Commonly used alternative remedies include:
- Pressure patches—worn on the wrists to put pressure on the pulse points of the wrist. Their effectiveness has not been proven.
- Ginger—used for centuries to treat motion sickness. While research is not conclusive, several clinical trials suggest that ginger may help with motion sickness.
Preparing for the Ride
Avoid the following before a trip or ride:
- Heavy meals or spicy foods
- Excess alcohol
- Lack of sleep
During a trip or ride avoid:
- Reading (if you are prone to motion sickness)
- Looking at others who are experiencing motion sickness
- Talking about motion sickness
Large or heavy meal
- During long trips, eat small, frequent meals or snacks consisting of easily digestible food or drink.
- During short trips, avoid eating or drinking.
- Excess alcohol
- Looking at moving objects—Look at nonmoving objects in the distance.
During a trip in a car:
- Sit in the front seat and look out the windshield.
- Drive if possible.
- Ask the driver to slow down or stop if you begin to feel sick.
- During a plane or train ride, look out a window.
- In a plane, sit over the wing for a less bumpy ride.
During a boat ride:
- Sit towards the middle of the boat.
- Get plenty of fresh air.
- Do not stay below deck for long periods of time (especially on smaller boats).
- Avoid amusement park and virtual reality rides if you are prone to motion sickness.
American Academy of Family Physicians
American Academy of Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery
American Academy of Pediatrics
Canadian Family Physician
American Academy of Otolaryngology website. Available at: http://www.entnet.org .
The Merck Manual of Medical Information. 17th ed. Simon and Schuster, Inc, 2000.
National Library of Medicine website. Available at: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/ .
Last reviewed November 2008 by
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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