Motion Sickness

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Motion Sickness

Topic Overview

What is motion sickness?

If you've ever been sick to your stomach on a rocking boat or a bumpy airplane ride, you know the discomfort of motion sickness. Although it doesn't cause long-term problems, motion sickness can make life miserable, especially for people who travel a lot.

People can feel sick from the motion in cars, airplanes, trains, amusement park rides, or on boats or ships. Motion sickness is sometimes called airsickness or seasickness. Video games, flight simulators, and looking through a microscope also can cause motion sickness. In these cases, the eyes see motion, but the body does not sense it.

Children from 5 to 12 years old, women, and the elderly seem to be more susceptible to motion sickness, while it is rare in children younger than age 2.

What are the symptoms?

Common symptoms of motion sickness are a general sense of not feeling well (malaise), nausea, vomiting, headache, and sweating.

What causes motion sickness?

Motion sickness occurs when the inner ear, the eyes, and other areas of the body that detect motion send unexpected or conflicting messages to the brain. One part of your balance-sensing system (your inner ear, vision, and sensory nerves that help you keep your balance) may sense that your body is moving, while the other parts do not sense motion. For example, if you are in the cabin of a moving ship, your inner ear may sense the motion of big waves, but your eyes don't see any movement. This leads to a conflict between the senses and results in motion sickness.

What is the treatment for motion sickness?

It's best to try to prevent motion sickness, because symptoms are hard to stop after they start. After motion sickness has started, relief comes only after the motion has stopped. If you can't stop the motion, you may be able to reduce the feeling of queasiness by sitting or lying down in an area that appears to move the least. In an airplane, sit near the wings. On a boat or ship, stay on the deck, looking at the horizon. Or try to sit or lie down in a cabin near the center of the ship.

You also can take prescription and nonprescription medicine to prevent or reduce symptoms of nausea and vomiting. Most medicines work best if you take them before you travel. The medicines work in different ways. Some are sedatives that minimize the effect of motion. Others reduce nausea and vomiting.

Many people try other methods of preventing motion sickness, such as taking powdered ginger capsules or wearing acupressure wristbands. It is safe to try these methods, and they might offer some relief. But there is little evidence that they prevent motion sickness.

Frequently Asked Questions

Learning about motion sickness:

Being diagnosed:

Getting treatment:

Symptoms

Motion sickness may cause:

  • A general feeling of being unwell (malaise).
  • Nausea or vomiting, or both.
  • Headache.
  • Cold sweating, which means you sweat even though you're not overheated.
  • A pale appearance.

Symptoms usually go away soon after the motion stops. Sometimes it can take a few days for symptoms to go away. You may become used to motion during extended trips, such as on a cruise. If that happens, your symptoms may subside. But when you are back on land, the lack of motion can cause symptoms to return for a short time.

Usually, symptoms go away within 3 days of the end of a trip. If they do not, see your doctor. You may have another condition that causes nausea and vomiting, such as stomach flu or an inner ear problem.

Exams and Tests

There are no exams or tests for motion sickness.

Treatment Overview

The best way to treat motion sickness is to stop the motion. If you can't stop the motion, sit or lie down in an area with the least motion. In an airplane, try to sit near the wings. On a ship, stay on the deck and look at the horizon. Or, if you are inside, move to the center of the ship.

You also can take prescription and nonprescription medicine to prevent or reduce symptoms of nausea and vomiting. Most medicines work best if taken before travel. The medicines work in different ways. Some are sedatives that minimize the effect of motion. Others reduce nausea and vomiting.

The following medicines may help prevent symptoms of motion sickness:

  • Scopolamine (Transderm Scop)
  • Promethazine (Promethegan)
  • Antihistamines, including dimenhydrinate (such as Dramamine). Do not give your child antihistamines unless your child’s doctor has told you to. If the doctor tells you to give your child medicine, be sure to follow the doctor’s advice on how to give it.

People often try alternative methods of preventing motion sickness such as taking ginger or wearing acupressure bands. There is little scientific evidence that these methods work. But there is no harm in trying them.

Physical therapy may help people who have significant problems with motion sickness. Your physical therapist will guide you through repeated motions in a controlled situation to help your balance-sensing system adapt to motion. No large studies have been done to test this treatment.

Home Treatment

The following tips may help you avoid motion sickness when you travel:

  • When you fly, request a seat near the wings. When you travel on a ship, try to book a cabin near the middle of the vessel and near the waterline.
  • Move your head as little as possible. Try to keep your head still by resting it on a headrest. Head movement can increase motion sickness.
  • When you're on a boat, try to get fresh air. When you're on the deck, look at a fixed point on the horizon.
  • When you travel by car, avoid reading or watching TV or videos.
  • Avoid drinking alcohol or eating a heavy meal before travel.
  • Do not eat or drink during short trips.
  • During an extended flight, eat small meals of foods that are easy to digest before and during a flight to help reduce nausea and vomiting.
  • Try to avoid strong odors and spicy foods.

If you do have symptoms of motion sickness, the following may help:

  • Eat a few dry soda crackers.
  • Sip on clear, carbonated drinks such as ginger ale.
  • Get some fresh air.
  • Lie down or at least keep your head still.

Other Places To Get Help

Organizations

HealthyChildren.org
141 Northwest Point Boulevard
Elk Grove Village, IL 60007
Phone: (847) 434-4000
Web Address: www.healthychildren.org
 

This American Academy of Pediatrics website has information for parents about childhood issues, from before the child is born to young adulthood. You'll find information on child growth and development, immunizations, safety, health issues, behavior, and much more.


American Academy of Otolaryngology
1650 Diagonal Road
Alexandria, VA  22314-2857
Phone: (703) 836-4444
Web Address: www.entnet.org
 

The American Academy of Otolaryngology is a society of doctors who treat ear, nose, and throat conditions. The organization provides information on a variety of ailments, including dizziness and motion sickness, allergies, and sinus problems.


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Travelers' Health
1600 Clifton Road
Atlanta, GA  30333
Phone: 1-800-CDC-INFO (1-800-232-4636)
TDD: 1-888-232-6348
Email: cdcinfo@cdc.gov
Web Address: wwwn.cdc.gov/travel
 

The CDC's Travelers' Health Web site provides health information for the traveler. The Web site provides information on immunizations that are needed for travel to various areas of the world. It also provides information for safe travel, including traveling with children and with people who have special needs. Information about current outbreaks of disease in the world is also provided. The CDC is the leading federal agency for protecting U.S. citizens' health and safety by providing credible health information and health promotion.


References

Other Works Consulted

  • Jacobs ME, Hawley CG (2012). Safety and survival at sea. In PS Auerbach, ed., Wilderness Medicine, 6th ed., pp. 1666–1692. Philadelphia: Mosby.
  • Krilov LR (2011). Travel medicine. In ET Bope et al., eds., Conn's Current Therapy 2011, pp. 158–163. Philadelphia: Saunders.

Credits

ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical ReviewerAnne C. Poinier, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical ReviewerBrian D. O'Brien, MD - Internal Medicine
Last RevisedMarch 24, 2011



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