Motion sickness can happen from any kind of movement -- even movement that you’re anticipating. People tend to get motion sickness on a moving boat, train, airplane, car, or amusement park rides. It usually stops as soon as the motion stops.
Although motion sickness is fairly common and often only a nuisance, it may cause problems for people who travel a lot. Fortunately, the more you travel, the more you get used to the motion. There are also things you can do to reduce the chance of getting motion sickness.
Signs and Symptoms
The most common signs and symptoms of motion sickness include:
- Pale skin
- Cold sweats
- Increased salivation
Motion sickness happens when the body, the inner ear, and the eyes send conflicting signals to the brain. This most often happens when you are in a car, boat, or airplane, but it may also happen on flight simulators or amusement park rides. From inside a ship's cabin, your inner ear may sense rolling motions that your eyes cannot see. On the other hand, your eyes may see movement on a "virtual reality" ride that your body does not feel.
Once a person gets used to the movement and the motion stops, symptoms may come back (although usually only briefly). Sometimes just thinking about movement can cause anxiety and symptoms of motion sickness. For example, a person who had motion sickness before might get nauseous on an airplane before take-off.
The following are the most common risk factors for motion sickness:
- Riding in a car, boat, airplane, or space shuttle
- Young age -- children ages 2 - 12 are most likely to get motion sickness.
- Being prone to nausea or vomiting
- Higher level of fear or anxiety
- Poor ventilation in the vehicle
- Sitting in the back seat or where you cannot see out the window
Most people who have had motion sickness ask their doctor how to prevent it next time. Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and find out what usually causes the problem, such as riding in a boat, flying in a plane, or driving in car. Your doctor doesn’t usually need laboratory tests to make a diagnosis.
There are several ways you can try to prevent motion sickness:
- Sit in the front seat in a car.
- Keep your eyes on the horizon. Don't read.
- Rest your head against the seat back, to keep it still.
- Turn the air vents toward your face.
- Don't smoke.
If you have motion sickness on a plane, try these tips:
- Avoid big, greasy meals and alcohol the night before air travel.
- Eat light meals or snacks that are low in calories in the 24 hours before air travel.
- Avoid salty foods and dairy products before you travel.
- Sit toward the front of the aircraft or in a seat over the wing.
- Turn the air vent flow toward your face.
If you have motion sickness on a boat, try these tips:
- Ask for a cabin on the upper deck or toward the front of the ship.
- When on deck, keep your eyes fixed on the horizon or land.
You can use medication to control your symptoms, but people who travel often may want to learn to control -- and prevent -- symptoms. Mind-body practices, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy and biofeedback, may help. Other alternatives include homeopathy, acupuncture, dietary supplements, changes to your diet, and physical exercise.
Medications for motion sickness may cause drowsiness. Pilots, ship crew members, or anyone operating heavy equipment or driving a car should not take them. These medications may help:
- Scopolamine (Transderm Scop) -- most commonly prescribed medication for motion sickness. You have to take it before symptoms start. It comes in patch form to put behind your ear 6 - 8 hours before travel. The effects last up to 3 days. Side effects may include dry mouth, drowsiness, blurred vision, and disorientation.
- Promethazine (Phenergan) -- take 2 hours before travel. The effects last 6 - 8 hours. Side effects include drowsiness and dry mouth.
- Cyclizine (Marezine) -- works best when taken at least 30 minutes before travel. It is not recommended for children younger than 6, and side effects are similar to scopolamine.
- Dimenhydrinate (Dramamine) -- take every 4 - 8 hours. Side effects are similar to scopolamine.
- Meclizine (Bonine) -- works best when taken 1 hour before travel. It is not recommended for children under 12, and side effects include drowsiness and dry mouth.
Nutrition and Dietary Supplements
A comprehensive treatment plan to treat motion sickness may include a range of complementary and alternative therapies. Ask your team of health care providers about the best ways to incorporate these therapies into your overall treatment plan. Always tell your health care provider about the herbs and supplements you are using or considering using.
Following these nutritional tips may help reduce symptoms:
- Avoid spicy, greasy, or fatty meals.
- Don't overeat.
- Drink plenty of water.
- Dry crackers and carbonated sodas (such as ginger ale) help some people avoid nausea.
- People who tend to have motion sickness may want to eat small, frequent meals.
Herbs may strengthen and tone the body's systems. As with any therapy, you should work with your health care provider before starting any treatment. You may use herbs as dried extracts (capsules, powders, teas), glycerites (glycerine extracts), or tinctures (alcohol extracts). Unless otherwise indicated, you should make teas with 1 tsp. herb per cup of hot water. Steep covered 5 - 10 minutes for leaf or flowers, and 10 - 20 minutes for roots. Drink 2 - 4 cups per day. You may use tinctures alone or in combination as noted.
- Ginger (Zingiber officinale), 250 mg three times daily as needed, for symptoms of nausea. Ginger is a traditional remedy for nausea, and some studies show it may help with motion sickness. Other studies have found it doesn't work, however. Ginger may increase the risk of bleeding, especially if you also take blood-thinners such warfarin (Coumadin), clopidogrel (Plavix), or aspirin. If you have a heart condition, talk to your doctor before taking ginger.
- Peppermint (Mentha piperita), 1 enteric coated tablet two to three times daily as needed. You may also make a tea from the leaf. Peppermint can interact with some medications, so ask your doctor before taking it.
- Black horehound (Ballotta nigra), 1 - 2 ml as a tincture or 1 - 2 tsp. of leaves steeped as a tea, taken three times per day. This is a traditional remedy for motion sickness, but no scientific studies have been done to see if it works. Black horehound can interact with Parkinson’s medications, and may be harmful to some people with Parkinson's or schizophrenia.
Some studies suggest that acupressure may help reduce symptoms of motion sickness in the same way as acupuncture, although the findings aren't totally clear. An acupressure practitioner works with the same points used in acupuncture, but uses finger pressure rather than needles.
Traditionally, the acupuncture point known as Pericardium 6 is said to help relieve nausea. It is on the inside of the wrist, about the length of 2 fingernails up the arm from the center of the wrist crease. Many travel stores sell wrist bands with built-in buttons that apply acupressure to this point.
Few studies have examined the effectiveness of specific homeopathic remedies. A professional homeopath, however, may recommend one or more of the following treatments for motion sickness based on their knowledge and clinical experience. Before prescribing a remedy, homeopaths take into account a person’s constitutional type -- your physical, emotional, and intellectual makeup. An experienced homeopath assesses all of these factors when determining the most appropriate remedy for a particular individual.
- Borax -- for nausea caused by downward motions, such as landing in an airplane
- Cocculus -- the primary treatment for motion sickness, particularly if nausea and vertigo or other type of dizziness are present
- Nux vomica -- for motion sickness accompanied by headache, nausea, and ringing in the ears
- Petroleum -- for dizziness and nausea that occur when riding in a car or boat
- Sepia -- for motion sickness brought on by reading while in a moving vehicle
- Tabacum -- for motion sickness with severe nausea and vomiting
There are "combination" remedies that include these remedies together. Although a classically trained homeopath may frown upon such combinations, some find them easier and effective for home use.
Biofeedback Training and Relaxation
In a study of 55 pilots who had to stop flying due to motion sickness, 76% of them got over their motion sickness and were able to return to work after a biofeedback training and relaxation program. The pilots sat in a tilting, rotating chair to bring on motion sickness, while biofeedback instruments recorded skin temperature and changes in muscle tension. The pilots used relaxation techniques, such as deep muscle relaxation and mental imagery, while in the chair. Over time, the pilots got used to the rotating chair and no longer felt sick as they learned to relax.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Cognitive behavioral therapy is used to reduce the anxiety some people have just thinking about movement or motion sickness. In a study of 50 pilots who occasionally had motion sickness, 86% of them got better after cognitive behavioral therapy. During this therapy, people are slowly exposed to a situation that causes motion sickness until they have some symptoms, but not until the symptoms become overwhelming. As they get used to the movement, they build confidence and their anxiety goes down.
In a study of 46 people with motion sickness, those who took slow, deep breaths had a fewer symptoms than those who breathed normally or counted their breaths. Rapid and shallow breathing often makes symptoms of motion sickness worse. While it makes sense that slow, deeper breathing would help lower anxiety, more studies are needed to see whether breathing techniques really help in reducing other symptoms.
Prognosis and Complications
Although motion sickness usually goes away after the motion stops and causes no lasting harm, it can be devastating for people whose jobs involve constant movement, such as a flight attendant, pilot, astronaut, or ship crew member.
People who don't travel often may get used to movement during a trip lasting several days. Even those who travel often may find that symptoms get better as they are more often exposed to motion. However, people who get anxious before a journey often have worsened symptoms of motion sickness. They may need help such as biofeedback and relaxation training.
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- Last Reviewed on 12/16/2012
- Steven D. Ehrlich, NMD, Solutions Acupuncture, a private practice specializing in complementary and alternative medicine, Phoenix, AZ. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network.
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This page was last updated: May 7, 2013