Motion Sickness

What is motion sickness?

The human body has a delicate system of equilibrium that relies on fluids in the inner ear, visual sensors and other physical input to maintain a sense of balance. When incoming signals are in conflict — for example, when the body is at rest yet the eyes sense movement — this system is disturbed, causing the symptoms of motion sickness. Motion sickness can occur, in order of frequency, during sea, air, road or train transportation.

When the cause persists, as on a ship, adaptation occurs after 2 or 3 days.

How do you recognise motion sickness?

The symptoms of motion sickness are abdominal discomfort; nausea, fatigue, pallor and sweating usually followed by vomiting. Lethargy can follow.

How do you prevent it?

  • Eat lightly before and during travel.

  • Don't drink alcohol.

  • Sit in the most stable section of a moving vehicle to decrease motion sickness symptoms. The best seats? Amidships, on deck if possible; over the wings on an airplane; in the front seat of a car; near the front of trains; and just forward of the midsection on buses.

  • Face forward and look out a window, keeping your eyes fixed on the horizon or a stationary point in the distance. Stay as still as possible, and avoid any rapid head movement.

  • Reduce visual stimulation by closing eyes, wearing dark glasses, or sleeping.

  • Antihistamines can prevent or relieve motion sickness. Since it is easier to prevent motion sickness than it is to stop it, medication should be taken 30 to 60 minutes before travel and continued during the trip. Side effects may include drowsiness, dizziness or dry mouth. Antihistamines should not be used by anyone with glaucoma, breathing problems such as asthma, or urinary difficulties caused by an enlarged prostate. Check labels carefully for appropriate dosages, precautions and age restrictions. You should discuss with doctor before taking.

  • Hyoscine (scopolamine) is another effective drug to prevent motion sickness. A scopolamine skin patch that can be worn is available which should be applied 5-6 hours before embarking on a journey. Side effects include drowsiness, dry mouth, blurred vision and urinary retention. It should not be used by anyone with glaucoma and enlarged prostate. You should discuss with your doctor before using.


Last revision date: 10 October 2012