Preventing And Treating Motion Sickness

Motion sick after a rollercoaster ride
Motion sick after a rollercoaster ride. tanebeau/Getty Images

Your sense of balance is a very complex sensation that is maintained by several parts of your body. Motion sickness occurs when the body systems that make up the vestibular system, the inner ear, eyes and receptors located throughout the body that can sense movement (proprioception), lose sync with one another. This is often caused by riding in a car, boat, airplane, or riding a novelty ride at the carnival. It can however be caused during any other activity that involves motion.


Dizziness is the main symptom associated with motion sickness and may be accompanied by a variety of other symptoms including:

  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • fatigue
  • cold sweats
  • headache

Who is at Risk

You may be at risk for having motion sickness if you belong to any one of these groups:

  • Children ages 2-12 years are more prone to experience motion sickness than people of other ages.
  • Women are more likely to get motion sickness than men.
  • Pregnant women are at an increased risk for motion sickness.
  • People who are prone to migraines may also be more likely to get motion sickness.
  • Some infections can increase the likelihood that you will develop motion sickness.
  • Engaging in certain activities can increase your risk such as playing video games that change the angle frequently, or even scrolling through pictures quickly on Google.

Medications can also make you more prone to develop motion sickness including: some antibiotics; birth control pills; digoxin; levodopa; narcotic pain medications; the antidepressants fluoxetine, paroxitine, and sertraline; and non-steroidal anti-inflammatories such as ibuprofen and naproxen.

Preventing Motion Sickness in a Car

Many people do not experience motion sickness while driving but get horrible motion sickness while riding in a car as a passenger. This is because when you're a passenger, especially if you're reading a book or focusing on something inside of the car, your eyes can send your brain the message that you are not moving while the rest of your body tells your brain that you are in motion. Besides being in the driver's seat here are some more tips for preventing motion sickness in an automobile:

  • get a window seat
  • avoid reading or other activities that involve focusing on objects inside the car
  • eat a light meal before traveling - an empty or too full stomach can make you more prone to nausea and vomiting
  • do not sit in a rear facing seat while moving forward
  • avoid rapid changes in position
  • make sure you are adequately hydrated (dehydration can contribute to nausea and vomiting)

If you have a history of severe motion sickness talk to your doctor about medications you can use to prevent motion sickness. For example, my husband got motion sickness while we were on a cruise but used meclizine to treat his symptoms. After that he took 25mg of meclizine daily to prevent the symptoms from returning.

Preventing Motion Sickness in a Boat

It is generally understood that if you are below the deck of the boat, you are at higher risk of having motion sickness, or sea sickness. This is believed to be related to the fact that you do not have a horizon reference point like you do while on the deck of the boat. Other things that may help reduce nausea while on a boat include:

  • lozenges, particularly ginger (helps improve moving food through your intestinal system)
  • deep belly (diaphragmatic) breathing at about 8 times per minute
  • finding a reference point that might simulate a horizon


If you get motion sickness anyway consider using these medications, (but talk to your doctor or pharmacist first):

  • dramamine
  • meclizine (often marketed as "Less Drowsy Dramamine" or "Daytime Dramamine")
  • eat ginger root (may increase the rate at which your stomach empties)
  • diphenhydramine
  • scopolamine (available with a prescription only)
  • metaclopramide (available by prescription)

While many of these medications are available over-the-counter they can interfere with other prescription and over-the-counter medications. Also, some of these medications should not be used in children so you should talk to your pediatrician before using medications for motion sickness in kids.

When to See a Doctor

Motion sickness usually stops when the motion does, or shortly after. If you continue to have symptoms you may have an inner ear disorder such as vertigo, Meniere's Disease or fluid in the ear. In this case you should visit an otolaryngologist (ear, nose, throat specialist).

Severe head injuries can sometimes cause symptoms similar to motion sickness. If you experience these symptoms after a head injury you should go to the emergency room or call 911.

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