How To Keep Motion Sickness at Bay
Planes, trains, and automobiles (not to mention boats) get us where we want to go, but can send many of us reaching for the sick bag. Fortunately, there are ways to avoid letting motion sickness take over your travels.
Susan H., a 28-year-old nutritionist from Boston, was simultaneously looking forward to and dreading her upcoming vacation to Europe. She would be hiking in the Austrian Alps and staying in a small village that she had visited a few years back. Getting to and from the village each day required 30 minutes of driving up and down winding, twisting mountain roads sometimes twice a day or more.
"It felt like every time I was in the car, I was nauseous," she recalls.
Determined not to spend another vacation feeling constantly sick, she brought along some pills made from ginger root and took them 30 minutes prior to making the trip up or down the mountain. The verdict?
"It worked wonders," she says. "I had a much more pleasant experience this time around."
Susan is not alone in her quest to quell motion sickness. Statistics on the prevalence of motion sickness are hard to come by, but the ubiquitous presence of sick bags on airplanes and boats and of both prescription and over-the-counter remedies gives a clue as to the frequency of this problem.
What Causes Motion Sickness?
Motion sickness is actually not a disorder of the stomach, but rather a disorder of the vestibular system, the body's balance system. Your body "senses" motion through a complex interaction of certain parts of this balance system, including the eyes, ears, and brain. When the different components of the system send conflicting information to the brain, the brain gets "confused" and triggers the vagus nerve to send signals to the stomach, producing the unpleasant symptoms of motion sickness. Exactly why this happens is unknown.
For example, say you're seated in the back of a car. Your eyes may focus on the seat in front of you, the interior of the car, or the book you're reading. To your eyes, your body doesn't appear to be moving (nor does the seat in front of you or the words in the book), so the eyes send the message to your brain that you are not moving. But the motion sensors in your inner ears sense the motion of the car and thus tell the brain that you are indeed moving. The conflicting messages get sent to the brain and motion sickness is triggered.
Preventing and Treating Motion Sickness
Prevention should be the first strategy. To do so, try to avoid getting into a situation in which your brain will receive those "confusing" messages. Here are some suggestions:
- Ride where your eyes will see the same motion that your body and inner ears feel, eg, in the front seat of a car, where you can view the scenery; up on the deck of a ship, where you can view the horizon; or by the window of an airplane.
- When traveling by air, try to choose a seat over the wings, where motion tends to be the least.
- Do not read while traveling or sit in a backward-facing seat.
- Breathe fresh air, if possible.
- Avoid strong odors and spicy or greasy food that might not agree with you.
If these suggestions aren't possible or don't help, there are some prescription and over-the-counter remedies that can ease the symptoms of motion sickness.
The drug scopolamine is available by prescription and comes in either pill form (brand name Scopace) or as a small patch worn behind the ear (brand name Transderm Scop). Over-the-counter medications include Dramamine and Bonine. While these drugs will suppress the nausea and queasiness of motion sickness, they are known to cause drowsiness, so keep that in mind when planning activities.
There is some evidence that ginger might somewhat reduce symptoms of motion sickness, and it doesn't cause drowsiness. Ginger is available at healthfood stores and comes in several forms: pills, powder, and candied or crystallized ginger. The best bet is to take one to two 500 mg capsules or to drink tea made with two teaspoons of dissolved powder 20-30 minutes before traveling. Then keep candied ginger or ginger ale handy during the trip.
According to the theories of traditional Chinese medicine, pressure on a specific point on the wrist can reduce nausea. Some but not all studies have found that wrist bands designed to apply such pressure actually do appear to relieve various forms of nausea, including motion sickness. These bands are available at many pharmacies and health food stores.
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Last reviewed August 2007 by Marcin Chwistek, MD
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