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Motion Sickness

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Last updated October 29, 2021

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What is motion sickness?

Motion sickness is a feeling that you’re spinning, falling, or moving when you’re not. It can happen when you’re traveling in a car, train, boat, or plane. It typically causes nausea and possibly vomiting, dizziness, or headaches.

Your brain uses your vision, inner ears, and body position to monitor balance. Your eyes tell you if you are upright. Your inner ears sense if you are tilted or turning. And your nerves sense your body’s position. During motion sickness, at least one of these senses is misinterpreted by the brain and you become nauseated.

Treating motion sickness

The best treatment is to get away from the motion. If this is not possible, then help your brain interpret these signals correctly.

You may be able to avoid feeling sick by staring at a fixed object or area while in motion. If possible, avoid sitting in locations that can make motion sickness worse. These include the lower decks of a boat, riding backward on a train, sitting in the back seat of a car, and sitting toward the rear of a plane. In a car, avoid reading and looking at screens, and try to sit in the front seat. On a boat, look out toward the horizon instead of down at the water, or move to the upper decks.

You can talk to a doctor about how to stop getting motion sickness. Medications for motion sickness include antihistamines such as dimenhydrinate (Dramamine), scopolamine, meclizine (Antivert), and promethazine (Phenergan). They should only be used for short time periods (like a plane ride or boat ride) because they can cause drowsiness.

If you know you are at risk of motion sickness, try to take medications one to two hours before traveling. You may also need to repeat doses.

Long-term, non-drug therapies can be very effective, such as cognitive behavioral therapy and breathing exercises. Some people find relief by wearing acupressure wristbands and bracelets when they travel.

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