What is motion sickness?
Motion (or travel) sickness is feeling unwell when in a moving vehicle. Commonly known as ‘travel sickness’, 'car sickness' or 'sea sickness', it is a normal response and can generally be prevented.
What are the symptoms of motion sickness?
Nausea is the main symptom of motion sickness but you might also experience other symptoms, including:
- pale skin
- cold sweat
- inability to walk
- persistent retching
What causes motion sickness?
Motion sickness is thought to be caused by the body being unbalanced in a moving vehicle so that the senses are confused. It can also be caused by visual experiences such as playing video games or watching spinning objects.
Common causes of motion sickness include:
- rocking in a boat
- air turbulence in a plane
- travelling in a car and not being able to see the horizon
- reading in a car
- not having enough air circulating in a car
Many people are susceptible to it, especially women and children, though it is less common after 10 to 12 years of age. It is also uncommon for children aged under 2 years to experience motion sickness.
How is motion sickness treated and prevented?
Testing is not required for diagnosis of motion sickness since you will probably know if you are experiencing it. After a few days of exposure to the motion, you will likely adapt.
You might feel better after vomiting, and symptoms will generally end once you get out of the vehicle. But you can also feel the after-effects for a few hours or a few days before fully recovering.
The best treatment for motion sickness is prevention, and there are many things you can do while travelling in a moving vehicle.
- Look outside the vehicle instead of reading or looking at a screen, for example, look out the window, or focus on the horizon if travelling in a boat.
- Listen to music and breathe mindfully.
- Get plenty of fresh air, if possible. On a plane, open the air vent.
- Lay down if you can or sit in a stable position using a headrest. Depending on the vehicle, sit facing forward and in a seat where it will be less bumpy. In a car or bus, sit at the front; if flying, sit over the airplane wing.
- Eat lightly before the trip and avoid heavy food and alcohol.
- Drink plenty of water.
- Avoid smells that you know make you nauseous.
- Ginger, peppermint and acupressure wrist bands might also be helpful.
You can take certain over-the-counter medications just before travel to prevent motion sickness, such as antihistamines or antiemetics (medications to preventing vomiting). There might be other side effects, such as making you drowsy. It is important to speak to a pharmacist or doctor for advice, particularly for children, if you are taking other medications, or if you are pregnant.
If you are going to take medication, you should do so before you travel. If you have motion sickness and you already feel nauseous, medications are not likely to help. It is better to eat a few plain crackers or drink a clear, fizzy drink to relieve the symptoms.
If your child regularly suffers from motion sickness, make sure you have a container, plastic bags and wipes handy, and take a break to give them fresh air if they are feeling unwell.
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Last reviewed: May 2021