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Motion sickness is a common physical response to real or virtual motion. Many people experience it to varying degrees, and it can be uncomfortable.
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Many of us will experience motion sickness at one time or another. It’s often caused by common methods of travel, such as car, train, sea or flying. It can also be caused by modern simulation systems and virtual reality systems (VR). Even something like a ride on a merry go round with your children can result in unwanted motion sickness. This can be inconvenient and uncomfortable.
Typical symptoms of motion sickness can include feelings of nausea (from mild to severe), dizziness, fatigue and sometimes vomiting. Motion sickness can affect the smallest of tasks in everyday life, getting in the way of simple activities such as driving in a car or getting to-and-from work by public transport.
Motion sickness is more common in children (particularly younger ones). Most children who get motion sickness are between six and nine years old. However many children ‘grow out’ of the symptoms as they reach their teen years and don’t suffer from the effects of it in adolescence and adulthood.
Motion sickness is also more commonly experienced by women, as well as people who suffer from vertigo, Meniere’s disease and migraines.
It’s difficult to know exactly how common it is, but everyone can get it, and most people will probably have experienced it at certain times to some extent.
It’s estimated that over two to three days of being on a large ship at sea, up to 25% of people get motion sickness. And 4% of people who travel by car experience motion sickness. On a commercial plane, fewer than 1% of travellers are thought to get motion sickness. So, as the figures show, it does occur ― even though we can’t be entirely sure of how prevalent it is.
Motion sickness: an overview. Drugs in Context, 8, pp.1–11.
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When we present you with stats, data, opinion or a consensus, we’ll tell you where this came from. And we’ll only present data as clinically reliable if it’s come from a reputable source, such as a state or government-funded health body, a peer-reviewed medical journal, or a recognised analytics or data body. Read more in our editorial policy.
So your brain gets different signals from your eyes and your inner ear when you’re travelling over bumps in a car, or if you’re moving up and down on a boat. It’s this mixture of signals that makes you feel ill.
Symptoms of motion sickness include nausea, headache, lack of energy, sweating, feeling cold and turning pale, and an increase in the amount of saliva you produce. Not everyone will get all of these symptoms, and they can vary from one person to the next.
Motion sickness doesn’t tend to cause serious problems. But on rare occasions you might find that you can’t stop being sick. This excessive vomiting can lead to dehydration and low blood pressure, which can prove to be dangerous if untreated.
If you have to travel or commute regularly, and suffer from motion sickness symptoms, then this can be challenging. You’ll have to plan ahead, including the use of any medication that might help you with these symptoms. Knowing that your journey may trigger motion sickness can also cause you to feel stressed or anxious which, in turn, can make travelling more difficult and unsafe than it needs to be.
Motion sickness. The Journal of the Louisiana State Medical Society : official organ of the Louisiana State Medical Society, 148(1), 7–11.
There are many treatments available for motion sickness.
Frequently prescribed motion sickness medications include hyoscine hydrobromide, commonly known as scopolamine, which is available as oral pills or skin patches. An over-the-counter motion sickness medication is dimenhydrinate marketed under various names.
Studies have shown that this ingredient makes it easier for you to tolerate motion. It works as a blocker, by preventing the brain from receiving signals from specific areas of the body, such as the inner ear, which causes the feelings of nausea and other symptoms of motion sickness.
In other treatments such as Cinnarizine, Phenargen and Stegeron, the active ingredients Cinnarizine and Promethazine can help reduce feelings of nausea. They work by blocking signals from reaching the area of the brain that causes nausea and vomiting. But they can have some side effects, such as drowsiness, fatigue and dizziness.
There isn’t a ‘best’ treatment as such. It depends on you and your body.
There are a range of treatments with different active ingredients and many of these also come in different forms.
They may also be especially useful when a longer treatment time is required, such as a coach trip or cruise.
Some people might find treatments that contain antihistamines work well in some ways, but the side effects are unpleasant. In which case, you may be better suited to alternative medication for motion sickness.
With young children, the effects of motion sickness often fade over time. Even with adults, there are many factors which can increase or decrease the overall effects of motion sickness. Sometimes, changing your environment or behaviour can help to lessen symptoms, or even get rid of them altogether.
If you suffer with motion sickness, you should avoid consuming heavy meals, drinking caffeine or alcohol, foods high in histamine content (for example cheese, tuna or salami) or a large volume of liquid, before travelling. Wherever possible, you should avoid a stuffy atmosphere whilst traveling.
Something as simple as opening a window on a car journey can help to ease symptoms. And if you’re a smoker, you should avoid smoking immediately before and during your journey.
You should take regular rest breaks if you can, and stay well hydrated during your journey. It’s also important to sleep if you’re taking a longer break. When traveling, always try to reduce movement to as little as possible, which can help to ease nausea.
Another important factor is reducing or getting rid of any unnecessary visual input, which will reduce visual sensory conflict and may delay the onset of motion sickness or limit the severity of your symptoms. You should also avoid reading or using a screen if you’re traveling on transport that’s moving.
You might find that you benefit from sitting in the front seat of a car rather than in the back, and by focusing on a fixed spot. Driving a vehicle rather than sitting in one as a passenger can help with motion sickness too.
Sunglasses can help reduce visual input, which can also be beneficial. If the above measures don’t work, you might find it helpful to close your eyes and lie horizontally (if you’re in an environment where it’s practical and safe for you to do so). If symptoms of motion sickness persist, though, you should consult our clinician to discuss treatment options.
Effects of ginger on motion sickness and gastric slow-wave dysrhythmias induced by circular vection. American journal of physiology. Gastrointestinal and liver physiology, 284(3), G481–G489.
The effects of the selective muscarinic M3 receptor antagonist darifenacin, and of hyoscine (scopolamine), on motion sickness, skin conductance & cognitive function. British journal of clinical pharmacology, 84(7), 1535–1543.
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