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Motion Sickness


Experts agree that almost no one is immune from motion sickness. Given a strong enough stimulus, anyone with a normal sense of balance will succumb.

Some people are susceptible to certain types of motion only or under special circumstances only. Individuals who may experience no discomfort at all riding in a car or plane, might fall victim to seasickness because of the ship's combined motions of pitching from back to front and rolling from side to side. Others can become queasy on a carnival ride or even in a movie chase scene.


The reasons for the body's unpleasant reaction to movement are really not known. Theories focus on the delicate balance system in the inner ear. A mismatch between the balance the ear "feels" through the semicircular canals and the balance that the eye "sees" can cause the ear to send signals to a part of the brain known as the vomiting center. This may produce the symptoms of motion sickness.

Visual stimuli, poor ventilation caused by gas fumes and smoke, and emotional factors such as fear and anxiety often act together to bring on an attack of motion sickness. Tobacco smoke and food odors can push a traveler's queasy stomach over the brink.


Symptoms of motion sickness are generally recognizable. A paleness of the skin may be followed by yawning, restlessness, and a cold sweat. As the symptoms progress, malaise and drowsiness set in, sometimes accompanied by an upset stomach. Excessive salivation, nausea and vomiting may follow. People with more resistance may experience a waxing and waning of symptoms and perhaps never actually vomit.


For those travelers who cannot prevent the symptoms of motion sickness, medications and other treatments are available. Nonprescription antihistamine treatments are believed to block signals from the inner ear to the vomiting center.

These are most effective if taken 30 minutes to an hour before traveling and as directed. If the drugs are taken only when the traveler begins to feel sick, it is usually too late to stop the process. These drugs should not be taken by children under 12 or by persons with other health problems without a doctor's consent.

A number of prescription anti-nausea and anti-vomiting drugs are available. Ask your doctor for advice.

One innovative treatment is a through-the-skin delivery system, Transderm Scop, developed for scopolamine a highly effective drug for motion sickness. One patch is normally applied behind the ear 4 hours prior to travel, and replaced every 3 days. This method is not recommended for children, pregnant women, or those with liver, kidney, or bladder disease.

Some studies have shown that ginger, an old home remedy for gastrointestinal disturbances, may be effective in prevention of motion sickness.

Once the symptoms of motion sickness have set in, there is little to offer the suffering traveler other than sympathy and perhaps some fresh air. It may be of some comfort to know that motion sickness seldom causes severe health complications and travelers usually adjust to the sickness-inducing motion. After a couple of days the symptoms may disappear.


What causes motion sickness?

What can I do to prevent motion sickness?

What treatment do you recommend?

What medications do you recommend and what are the side effects?

Preventing motion sickness is easier than treating it once it has begun. A number of precautions can provide some help.

  • Place yourself where motion is least. In a car, sit in the front seat, looking ahead. In an airplane, choose a seat over the wing. On a ship, remain at the middle of the ship (preferably on deck). In a bus, take a seat just behind the front door.
  • Keep your head still and focus on the distant horizon. Close your eyes to avoid looking at fast-moving scenery or waves. Attention should be focused away from the motion of the vehicle. Reading is not recommended.
  • Avoid overindulgence in food or alcohol for at least 24 hours prior to travel.