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Motion Sickness

(Air Sickness; Car Sickness; Sea Sickness)
  • Definition

    Motion sickness is characterized by the symptoms of nausea and vomiting. Nausea and vomiting can be caused by motion itself or simply from feeling the sensation of motion, as when watching a movie or playing a video game.
  • Causes

    Balance and equilibrium are maintained by an interaction among the inner ears, the eyes, pressure receptors on the skin, and motion receptors in the muscles and joints.
    Motion sickness results when conflicting messages regarding spatial orientation and motion of the body are sent to the central nervous system. For example, reading a book while riding in a car may cause your eyes to send different messages than your inner ears do regarding motion.
    Central Nervous System
    Central Nervous System
    Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.
  • Risk Factors

    Motion sickness is more common in women and children. Other factors that may increase your chance of motion sickness include:
    • Family members who get motion sickness
    • A long or rough car, boat, plane, or train ride
    • Amusement park rides
    • Migraine headaches
  • Symptoms

    The most common symptoms include:
    • Lightheadedness
    • Upset stomach
    • Nausea or vomiting
    Other symptoms include:
    • Tiredness or sleepiness
    • Sweating
    • Cold, clammy feeling
    • Feeling faint
    • Headache
    • Loss of color, especially in the face
  • Diagnosis

    Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.
  • Treatment

    Symptoms of motion sickness usually go away soon after the motion stops. But, for some people, the symptoms can last a day or more. The main treatment for motion sickness is rest.
    To help control vomiting, medications may be given rectally or through an IV. If motion sickness lasts a long time, fluids may be given in order to prevent dehydration.
  • Prevention

    Strategies to prevent motion sickness include:
    Medication that prevent motion sickness should be taken as directed before you begin a trip or ride. These medications can cause side effects, such as drowsiness, lack of alertness, or trouble concentrating.
    Medications include:
    • Over-the-counter antihistamines
    • Prescription scopolamine
    • Prochlorperazine, promethazine, or chlorpromazine
    Repeated Exposure
    Repeated exposure to the motion that causes the sickness can decrease your symptoms. This treatment can take time and may be unpleasant.
    Alternative Remedies
    Commonly used alternative remedies include:
    • Pressure patch worn on the wrist to put pressure on certain points
    • Ginger
    Lifestyle Changes
    There are steps that you can take to be more prepared:
    Before you go:
    • Avoid heavy meals or spicy foods
    • Avoid excess alcohol
    • Get plenty of sleep
    For cars:
    • Try to sit in the front seat or volunteer to drive
    • Don't reading while in motion
    • Eat small, frequent meals or snacks
    • Avoid excess alcohol
    • Don't look at moving objects
    • Ask the driver to slow down or stop if you start to feel sick
    For planes, trains, or boats:
    • Get a window seat and look outside
    • Sit over the wing on a plane
    • Sit in the middle of a boat and try to get some fresh air
    Try to avoid amusement parks, virtual reality rides, and movies that may lead to motion sickness.

    Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians

    Healthy Children—American Academy of Pediatrics


    Health Canada

    The College of Family Physicians of Canada


    Dizziness and motion sickness. American Academy of Otolaryngology website. Available at: Updated December 2010. Accessed April 25, 2013.

    Motion sickness. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: Updated July 1, 2011. Accessed April 25, 2013.

    Murdin L, Golding J, Bronstein A. Managing motion sickness. BMJ. 2011;343:d7430.

    Nausea and vomiting in adults. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: Updated March 18, 2013. Accessed April 25, 2013.

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