Definition

What is motion sickness?

Motion sickness (kinetosis) is the experience of unpleasant symptoms, predominantly nausea, during real or perceived motion. It is a very common disturbance of the inner ear.

Motion sickness is considered to be a form of dizziness and can be induced in most normal individuals. It is not considered to be a specific disease state.

How common is motion sickness?

Motion sickness is extremely common. Anyone can get motion sickness, but some are more vulnerable than others. Women often experience motion sickness, particularly during periods or pregnancy. People who often get migraines may also be more likely to experience motion sickness and to have a migraine at the same time.

Motion sickness is also more common in children aged 3 to 12. After this age, most teenagers grow out of the condition. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.

Symptoms

What are the symptoms of motion sickness?

Serious symptoms of motion sickness are:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Pallor
  • Sweating
  • Drooling
  • Short breath
  • Dizziness
  • Drowsiness

Other common signs are:

  • Sweating
  • A general feeling of discomfort
  • Not feeling well (malaise)

Mild symptoms are categorized as:

  • Headache
  • Mild unease
  • Yawning

There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.

When should I see my doctor?

You should contact your doctor if you have any of the following:

In most cases, motion sickness can be treated without a visit to the doctor. It’s only necessary to seek medical advice if the symptoms continue after the person stops travelling or if he has worsening or extremely severe motion sickness, especially if he has prolonged vomiting.

At the GP’s, other possible causes of the symptoms can also be ruled out, such as a viral infection of your inner ear (labyrinthitis).

 

Causes

What causes motion sickness?

The cause of motion sickness is complex and not fully understood, but most experts believe that it arises due to conflicts in sensory input to the brain. The brain senses motion through different signaling pathways from the inner ear (sensing motion, acceleration, and gravity), the eyes (vision), and the deeper tissues of the body (proprioceptors). When the body moves involuntarily, such as when riding in a vehicle, there may be conflict among these different types of sensory input to the brain. The sensory apparatus in the inner ear seems to be most critical in the development of motion sickness.

Risk factors

What increases my risk for motion sickness?

Studies have shown that some people are more likely than others to experience motion sickness.

  • Women are more sensitive to motion sickness than men, and pregnant women are especially at risk for motion sickness.
  • Children are commonly affected. The peak incidence for the development of motion sickness is 12 years; infants and children under two are generally not affected.
  • Persons who suffer from migraine headaches or conditions that interfere with sensory input (such as labyrinthitis) are at increased risk for motion sickness.

Diagnosis & treatment

The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.

How is motion sickness diagnosed?

There are no diagnostic tests for motion sickness. The diagnosis is made by the characteristic symptoms appearing during travel or during any form of passive motion.

How is motion sickness treated?

A number of different treatments have been successfully used to manage the symptoms of motion sickness and are described below.

Medical treatment for motion sickness

Medications can be used that suppress the conflicting sensory input to the brain or help alleviate the symptoms of motion sickness. A number of different classes of medications have been effective in treating motion sickness (see below). Medications are most effective when taken in anticipation of the involuntary motion; they are less effective for symptom relief after the motion has begun.

Motion Sickness Medications

Antihistamines

Antihistamines have been used to treat motions sickness. Notably, the nonsedating antihistamines do not seem to be effective for motion sickness treatment.

Examples of antihistamine medications to treat motion sickness include:

  • Chlorpheniramine (aller-chlor),
  • Cyclizine (marezine),
  • Cyclizine hci (bonine for kids)
  • Dimenhydrinate (dramamine, dramamine chewable, driminate),
  • Diphenhydramine (benadryl),
  • Meclizine (antivert, bonine, d-vert, dramamine ii).

Side effects may include significant sedation, drowsiness, dry mouth, blurred vision, and confusion and urinary retention in the elderly.

Anticholinergics

Scopolamine (Transderm-Scop) is the most well-known medication in this category. It has been shown in clinical trials to be effective at preventing motion sickness. Scopolamine is most commonly administered as a patch applied to the skin. Side effects are the same as those of the antihistamines (sedation, blurred vision, dry mouth, and confusion and urinary retention in the elderly). Persons at risk for angle-closure glaucoma should not take scopolamine.

Antidopaminergics

Two drugs in this category that have been successfully used in the management of motion sickness include promethazine (Phenergan, Pentazine) and metoclopramide (Reglan). Both of these medications can also cause significant sedation and in a few people, movement disorders (for example, torticollis or twisting of the neck, tongue protrusion).

Other Motion Sickness Medications

Ephedrine and some amphetamines have been used both to treat motion sickness and to counteract the sedating effects of other medical treatments. Studies have also shown a beneficial effect of caffeine when administered in combination with other medications for motion sickness.

Benzodiazepines have also been useful for some people with motion sickness. Examples include:

  • Alprazolam (Xanax)
  • Diazepam (Valium)

Antiemetic (anti-nausea) medications have been used to control nausea and vomiting after motion sickness has developed. Examples include:

  • Prochlorperazine (Compazine)
  • Ondansetron (Zofran)

Lifestyle changes & home remedies

What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage motion sickness?

The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with motion sickness:

Remedies for motion sickness

Looking at the horizon

One common suggestion is to simply look out of the window of the moving vehicle and to gaze toward the horizon in the direction of travel. This helps to re-orient the inner sense of balance by providing a visual reaffirmation of motion.

Keeping eyes closed and napping

In the night, or in a ship without windows, it is helpful to simply close one’s eyes, or if possible, take a nap. This resolves the input conflict between the eyes and the inner ear.

Chewing

Chewing gum is a simple way of reducing motion sickness.

A simple method for relieving common and mild car sickness is chewing. Chewing gum has an uncanny effectiveness for reducing car sickness in those affected.

Chewing gum, however, is not the only thing one may chew to relieve mild effects of car sickness, snacking on sweets, or just chewing in general seems to reduce adverse effects of the conflict between vision and balance.

Fresh air

Fresh, cool air can also relieve motion sickness slightly, although it is likely this is related to avoiding foul odors, which can worsen nausea.

Ginger

Ginger has been found to reduce motion sickness. This is available in tablet form, or a fresh stem of ginger can be chewed to relieve symptoms. There is some debate over whether it is the chewing or the ginger that helps.

Acupressure

An acupressure practitioner works with the same points used in acupuncture, but stimulates these healing sites with finger pressure, rather than inserting fine needles. Some studies suggest that acupressure may help reduce symptoms of motion sickness in the same way as acupuncture, although the evidence is not clear.

Important tips for preventing motion sickness

  • Always sit in a position so that the eyes can see the same motion that the body and inner ear feels.
  • In a car, sit in the front seat and look at the distant scenery.
  • On a boat, go up on the deck and watch the motion of the horizon.
  • In an airplane, sit by the window and look outside. Also, in a plane, choose a seat over the wings where the motion is minimized.
  • Do not read while traveling if experiencing motion sickness, and do not sit in a seat facing backward.
  • Do not watch or talk to another traveler who is having motion sickness.
  • Avoid strong odors and spicy or greasy foods immediately before and during travel.

If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Sources

Review Date: October 17, 2017 | Last Modified: October 17, 2017

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