Motion Sickness Symptoms, Causes & Treatment Options

Motion sickness refers to queasiness, nausea, and vomiting caused by being on or in a moving vessel such as a car, airplane, train, or boat.

Motion Sickness Symptom Checker

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Contents

  1. Overview
  2. Symptoms
  3. Potential Causes
  4. Treatment, Prevention and Relief
  5. When to Seek Further Consultation
  6. References

What Is Motion Sickness?

Summary

Motion sickness is a common, benign condition where an individual because queasy, nauseated, and/or vomits as the result of being onboard a moving object or vessel, such as a car, boat, airplane, amusement park ride, or in an earthquake. In affected people, it is caused when the data from your ears and your eyes do not match up. It can be treated by medicine, by changing where you gaze, or by removing yourself from the vessel or object causing the motion. It can also be prevented by taking medications prior to embarking, boarding, or mounting a moving object.

Recommended care

Motion Sickness Symptoms

Main symptoms

The typical symptoms include:

  • Queasiness
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

Other symptoms

Less common symptoms include:

  • Feeling hot
  • Cold sweats
  • Persistent retching
  • Incapacitation
  • Heartburn
  • Losing the color in your face

Motion Sickness Causes

The cause of motion sickness is well known. When your brain receives motion information from your ears, it compares it against what is being seen by your eyes. If these two data streams are not in agreement, then the symptoms of motion sickness can occur in certain individuals.

Aggravating factors

The following things may increase the chance you get (or the severity of) motion sickness:

  • Staring at a still object while in a moving object: for example, reading a book while in a car
  • Turbulence
  • Abrupt acceleration and deceleration of a vehicle
  • Eating a heavy meal before travel

Motion Sickness Symptom Checker

Take a quiz to find out if your symptoms point to motion sickness

Treatment Options, Relief, and Prevention for Motion Sickness

Treatment

The treatment of motion sickness is split into two categories: medications and change of environment.

The medications for motion sickness include:

  • Prescription scopolamine (Scopace): anticholinergic drug that comes as a patch that you apply behind your ear
  • Over-the-counter meclizine (Bonine): an antihistamine drug
  • Over-the-counter dimenhydrinate (Dramamine): an antihistamine drug

The antihistamine drugs most commonly cause drowsiness as a side effect. The above medications are

Other things you can do to treat or reduce the severity of motion sickness include:

  • Changing your location aboard a vessel: Finding a place that has some cool, crisp air can help.
  • Always face forward (in the direction of travel)
  • Prefer to sit in the front of a vessel
  • Look out the window: This can synchronize visual information with balance information and decrease dizziness. Try to gaze toward the horizon.
  • Stand or sit up: Laying down can worsen the queasiness.
  • Take some deep breaths

Finally, some people claim benefit from eating ginger or chewing on ginger root. This claim has never been scientifically proven, however. Note that the non-diet soda, ginger ale, often has no actual ginger in it and is unhealthy given its sugar content.

Prevention

Prevention includes avoidance and preparation. Strategies to avoid motion sickness include:

  • Preferring alternate modes of travel: For example, people often get more motion sick on a bus than in a car or on a boat than in a train.
  • Consider driving the car as opposed to being a passenger
  • Do not read or watch movies while in motion: In general, do not stare at any still objects inside the vehicle. Prefer to look outside.
  • Get adequate rest the night before travel
  • Choose a seat in the front
  • If on a boat, choose a cabin on the inside of the boat
  • Do not smoke cigarettes
  • Slowly expose yourself to increasing levels of motion: This may prepare you to experience more aggressive modes of travel in the future.
  • Don’t travel when the conditions are bad

Preparation strategies include:

  • Take meclizine or dimenhydrinate about one hour before starting to travel or scopolamine a few hours before. Re-dose the medication as directed on the box or by a physician during travel
  • Drink lots of water
  • Do not eat a heavy fatty meal before or during travel

When to Seek Further Consultation for Motion Sickness

If you are dizzy, queasy, or nauseated when not in motion, seek the opinion of a healthcare professional. If you cannot control your motion sickness with the over-the-counter drugs and strategies mentioned above, seek the advice of a healthcare professional.