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Here’s Why You Get Motion Sickness and What Can Keep the Queasiness Away

If you’ve ever felt nauseated or you’ve had to vomit when you’re on the move, you know how unpleasant motion sickness can be. It’s been a common problem for ages. Even Hippocrates described it occurring during boat travel, said Loren Lasater MD, a family medicine physician with Banner Health.

Symptoms include nausea and sometimes vomiting, as well as feeling warm or unwell overall, and you may even hyperventilate.

What causes motion sickness?

Motion sickness isn’t a disease. It’s a temporary condition that occurs when your brain gets stimuli that it can’t match up. It’s likely a mismatch among signals from three different systems within your body that causes motion sickness:

  • Your labyrinth system (part of your inner ear), which sends signals to your brain about your balance and your position in space
  • Your visual system, which sends signals about what you see
  • Your somatic sensory system, which sends signals about how you are moving

When you are moving but not causing the movement yourself, these signals can conflict and trigger motion sickness. It’s common, striking 46% of car travelers, 43% of bus travelers, 36% of cruise ship passengers and 25% of air travel passengers.

Who is at risk for motion sickness?

Anyone who’s traveling in a motor vehicle, boat or airplane can get it, but some people are more susceptible to motion sickness than others, including:

  • Women, and in particular, pregnant women
  • Children: Motion sickness is common in children and often starts at 2 years of age or older, peaks at age 9 and tapers off
  • People with a family history of motion sickness
  • People who get migraine headaches

The type of motion and your position when you’re traveling can affect your risk of motion sickness. Some people do fine when flying but get sick on boats, for example.

How can you treat motion sickness?

One of the best ways to help deal with motion sickness is to help your body sync up what you see and feel. So, it’s best to look at the horizon, not at a book or screen. Choosing the right location is also helpful:

  • On a cruise ship, seek out low decks or the middle of the ship
  • Sit in the front passenger seat of a car or drive if you can
  • On a plane, sit over the edge of the wing

In addition, you can also try hard ginger candy or ginger ale. Acupressure may be helpful but hasn’t been proven with research, Dr. Lasater said. Some people find relief from wrist bands that put pressure on a spot on the inside of the wrist.

Over-the-counter antihistamines such as meclizine (Bonine) and dimenhydrinate (Dramamine) can help. Just keep in mind they can cause drowsiness.

Scopolamine patches, available by prescription, can also help. You can apply a patch 12 hours before you travel to prevent motion sickness, and it may last for up to 72 hours.

The bottom line

Motion sickness is a condition that strikes a lot of people during their lifetimes. If you’re susceptible to it, you can take steps when you’re traveling to make it less likely. If you would like to see a doctor who can help you avoid motion sickness, reach out to Banner Health.

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