How to Beat Motion Sickness

Medically Reviewed by Sabrina Felson, MD on November 07, 2020
3 min read

You don’t have to strap into the Tilt-A-Whirl at the county fair or cram into a bus for a 3-hour trip through curvy mountain roads to understand motion sickness.

Anyone can get it. It happens when your brain gets conflicting information from your body, your eyes, and your inner ear (which tells your brain how your head is moving). For example, if you’re on a boat, your inner ear may detect a rolling motion that your eyes can’t see. That can cause motion sickness.

Some people are a little more likely to get it than others:

Nausea and vomiting are the most common symptoms caused by motion sickness, but they’re not the only ones. It also can cause cold sweats, headaches, and pain. Sometimes your skin may be pale, or you might get sleepy or have more saliva.

Lots of yawning can be the first sign of motion sickness. And some people get more and more irritable.

You can do a few things to try to help with motion sickness:

  • Lay off caffeine, alcohol, and big meals before the trip. Drink lots of water instead.
  • Lie down if you can, or shut your eyes, and keep your head still. Look at the horizon -- don’t read or stare at the seat in front of you.
  • Find a better spot. Many people find relief by taking the wheel. If you’re not driving, sit in the front seat rather than in back. If you’re in a plane, sit over the wing rather than in the front or extreme back. If you’re on a bus or train, try to get a seat that faces the way you’re going.
  • Add some distractions -- music, for example. Or eat something. Dry crackers may calm a queasy stomach. Suck on a lozenge. (Something with ginger in it may be especially helpful.) Light, fizzy drinks, like ginger ale, also can help.
  • There’s some evidence that bands that put pressure on your wrist -- some send small electrical stimulation to a specific area -- can help, but other studies have shown that they don’t.

If you can’t keep it at bay, there are two kinds of medicine you can take for motion sickness. The first is antihistamines, both prescription and over-the-counter. These are the most commonly used medications for motion sickness, and they’re available in any drug store and in many supermarkets. Cyclizine (Marezine) and dimenhydrinate (Dramamine) are two major ones.

Make sure to read the drug labels, though. One of the big side effects of these medications is drowsiness. Some products use different ingredients that don’t make you as sleepy, but they may not work as well.

The other well-known drug used to keep motion sickness under control is scopolamine (Transderm Scop). It’s an adhesive patch you put behind your ear a few hours before you think you’ll need it. You have to have a prescription to get it.

Kids shouldn’t take antihistamines or scopolamine. If your child is between the ages of 2 and 12, dimenhydrinate (Dramamine) or diphenhydramine (Benadryl) might be helpful. Try a test dose before you leave home, though, because some children can be sensitive to them.

As with all drugs -- including over-the-counter antihistamines -- check with your doctor before you take them or give them to your child.