How to Prevent and Treat Motion Sickness

Woman on a plane feeling nauseous and covering her mouth

Enes Evren / 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.

Symptoms

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, paroxetine, 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 as 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.

Preventing Motion Sickness in a Boat

It is generally understood that if you are below the deck of the boat, you are at a higher risk of having motion sickness, or seasickness. 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

Treatment

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, which may increase the rate at which your stomach empties.
  • Diphenhydramine
  • Scopolamine (available with a prescription only)
  • Metoclopramide (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 for Motion Sickness

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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Article Sources

Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial policy to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  • American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery. Dizziness and Motion Sickness.

  • CDC. Motion Sickness.

  • Stromberg, S.E., Russell, M.E. & Carlson, C.R. (2015) Diaphragmatic breathing and its effectiveness for the management of motion sickness. Aerosp Med Hum Perform. 86(5):452-7. doi: 10.3357/AMHP.4152.2015