If you get carsick, airsick, or seasick, you have motion sickness. Motion sickness is that feeling of dizziness, sweating, or nausea when you’re traveling.
What Causes Motion Sickness?
Your body has different parts that sense motion. These include your muscles, joints, eyes, and inner ears. When you're traveling, these body parts send different information to your brain.
For example, if you’re on your phone while sitting in a car, your eyes are looking at something that’s not moving, but your inner ear senses that there’s motion.
Your brain doesn’t know whether you’re moving or staying still. Your brain’s confusion is what causes your motion sickness symptoms.
You can get motion sickness when:
- riding in cars, buses, boats, trains, or planes
- on amusement park rides
- playing video games
- watching movies
- viewing virtual simulators
It's estimated that one in three people get motion sickness at some point in their lives. Anyone can get motion sickness, but it’s more common in women and children under the age of 12.
There are some factors that make you more likely to have motion sickness:
Symptoms of Motion Sickness
Motion sickness doesn’t usually cause serious problems, but the symptoms can appear without warning. Symptoms include:
- Pale skin
- Cold sweats
- Inability to concentrate
- Increased saliva
- Nausea and vomiting
- Rapid breathing
Motion sickness can make traveling unpleasant. But once the motion stops, your symptoms usually resolve completely within 24 hours. In rare cases, some people can’t stop throwing up. This may lead to:
How to Prevent Motion Sickness
If you have motion sickness, try to plan ahead.
- Don’t drink alcohol before traveling. Drink lots of water instead.
- Don’t have a heavy meal before or during your trip. Avoid acidic, spicy, or greasy foods. Stick to small portions of plain food.
- Take motion sickness medication 1 to 2 hours before your trip.
- Try to get plenty of rest the night before your trip.
- Don’t read or look at your phone or tablet when traveling. Look out the window at a distant object or at the horizon.
- Listen to music to distract yourself.
- Make sure there’s enough ventilation. Roll down the windows or turn on the air-conditioning. On a boat, sit near the window. Turn the vent on an airplane toward you.
- Try not to travel in difficult weather conditions.
- Avoid cigarette smoke.
- If possible, try to lie down and close your eyes.
- If you have nausea, eat some small plain crackers. Drink clear fizzy liquids like ginger ale.
- Try candied ginger, ginger ale, or ginger supplements.
Plan ahead when booking a trip. Here’s where to sit to prevent motion sickness:
- On a boat, avoid sitting at the back of the boat. Face forwards.
- On a cruise ship, book a cabin in the middle or front of the ship. Ask for a room that is the closest to the water level.
- In a car, drive or sit in the front passenger seat. Many people with motion sickness find that they don’t have symptoms when they drive.
- In a plane, sit over the wings.
- In a train or bus, sit facing forward near a window.
If your child has motion sickness, try these tips:
- Distract them. Talk to them, play music, or sing songs.
- If your child naps, travel during their naptime.
- Pack simple snacks like plain crackers if the trip is long.
- Talk to your child’s doctor about medication such as an over-the-counter antihistamine to prevent motion sickness. This is best taken 1 hour before traveling. Check for the right dosage and be prepared for possible side effects like drowsiness.
- If your child starts to have motion sickness symptoms, stop the car when possible. Let your child get out and walk around. Have them lie down with their eyes closed for a few minutes. A cool cloth on the forehead may also help.
Treatment for Motion Sickness
There are various treatments for motion sickness available:
- Over-the-counter antihistamines are usually used for allergies, but can also help with motion sickness. Only the types that make you drowsy work. These include dimenhydrinate, meclizine, and diphenhydramine.
- Motion sickness bands and bracelets. These work by applying pressure on acupressure points. Some of them may include essential oils.
- Scopolamine pills or skin patches prevent vomiting and nausea. At least 4 hours before traveling, stick the patch behind your ear. Remove it after 3 days and apply a new one. This medication is only approved for adults. It can cause dry mouth.
When to See Your Doctor
Talk to your doctor if you have:
- Signs of dehydration
- Persistent nausea or vomiting
- Symptoms of motion sickness when you’re not doing an activity that involves motion