May 18, 2017

Planes, Trains and Sick to Your Stomach? Symptoms and Solutions for 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. It doesn’t cause long-term problems, but it can make your life miserable, especially if you travel a lot.

Children from 5 to 12 years old, women and older adults get motion sickness more than others do. It’s rare in children younger than 2 years old. Motion sickness is sometimes called airsickness, seasickness or carsickness.

What are the symptoms?

  • General feeling that you’re ill
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Headache
  • Sweating

Symptoms will usually go away soon after the motion stops.

What causes motion sickness?

You get motion sickness when one part of your balance-sensing system (your inner ear, eyes and sensory nerves) senses that your body is moving, but the other parts don’t. For example, if you are in the cabin of a moving ship, your inner ear may sense the motion of waves, but your eyes don’t see any movement. This conflict between the senses causes motion sickness.

You may feel sick from the motion of cars, airplanes, trains, amusement park rides, or boats or ships. You could also get sick from video games, flight simulators or looking through a microscope. In these cases, your eyes see motion, but your body doesn’t sense it.

How is it treated?

You can take medicine to prevent or reduce nausea and vomiting. These include:

  • Scopolamine, which comes as a patch you put behind your ear
  • Medicines called antiemetics, which reduce nausea
  • Certain antihistamines, such as dimenhydrinate and meclizine (these may make you drowsy

Some of these medicines require a prescription. Most work best if you take them before you travel.

These tips may help you feel better when you have motion sickness:

  • Eat a few dry soda crackers.
  • Sip on clear, fizzy drinks such as ginger ale.
  • Get some fresh air.
  • Lie down, or at least keep your head still.
  • Keep your eyes open and focused on the outside world.

How can you avoid motion sickness?

It’s best to try to prevent motion sickness, because symptoms are hard to stop after they start. After symptoms start, you may feel better only after the motion stops.

These general tips may help you avoid motion sickness:

  • Move your head as little as possible.
  • Don’t drink alcohol or eat a heavy meal before you travel.
  • Don’t eat or drink during short trips.
  • Try to avoid strong odors and spicy foods.

To avoid motion sickness when you travel by car:

  • Sit in the front seat.
  • Don’t read or watch TV or videos.
  • Sit in the front seat, and look forward.

When you travel by airplane:

  • Ask for a seat near the wings.
  • Eat small meals of foods that are easy to digest before and during a long flight. This may help reduce nausea and vomiting.

When you travel by ship or boat:

  • Book a cabin near the middle of a ship and near the waterline. Sit in the middle of a boat.
  • Try to get fresh air.
  • Look at a fixed point on the horizon.

Many people try other methods of preventing motion sickness, such as taking powdered ginger capsules or wearing acupressure wristbands. While there is not much evidence that they help, it’s safe to try them.


Reviewed by Dr. Marina MacNamara, MD, Mission Community Primary Care – Haywood. (828) 456-9006

To find a Mission primary care provider, call (828) 213-3222 or request an appointment at mission-health.org/needadoc.

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