Skip to Content

Motion Sickness

Topic Overview

What is motion sickness?

If you've ever been sick to your stomach on a rocking boat or a bumpy airplane ride, you know the discomfort of motion sickness. It doesn't cause long-term problems, but it can make your life miserable, especially if you travel a lot.

Children from 5 to 12 years old, women, and older adults get motion sickness more than others do. It's rare in children younger than 2.

Motion sickness is sometimes called airsickness, seasickness, or carsickness.

What are the symptoms?

Motion sickness can cause:

  • A general feeling that you're ill.
  • Nausea.
  • Vomiting.
  • Headache.
  • Sweating.

Symptoms will usually go away soon after the motion stops.

What causes motion sickness?

You get motion sickness when one part of your balance-sensing system (your inner ear, eyes, and sensory nerves) senses that your body is moving, but the other parts don't. For example, if you are in the cabin of a moving ship, your inner ear may sense the motion of waves, but your eyes don't see any movement. This conflict between the senses causes motion sickness.

You may feel sick from the motion of cars, airplanes, trains, amusement park rides, or boats or ships. You could also get sick from video games, flight simulators, or looking through a microscope. In these cases, your eyes see motion, but your body doesn't sense it.

How is it treated?

You can take medicine to prevent or reduce nausea and vomiting. These include:

  • Scopolamine, which comes as a patch you put behind your ear.
  • Medicines called antiemetics, which reduce nausea.
  • Certain antihistamines, which may make you drowsy.

Some of these medicines require a prescription. Most work best if you take them before you travel.

These tips may help you feel better when you have motion sickness:

  • Eat a few dry soda crackers.
  • Sip on clear, fizzy drinks such as ginger ale.
  • Get some fresh air.
  • Lie down, or at least keep your head still.

How can you avoid motion sickness?

It's best to try to prevent motion sickness, because symptoms are hard to stop after they start. After symptoms start, you may feel better only after the motion stops.

These general tips may help you avoid motion sickness:

  • Move your head as little as possible.
  • Don't drink alcohol or eat a heavy meal before you travel.
  • Don't eat or drink during short trips.
  • Try to avoid strong odors and spicy foods.
In a car

To avoid motion sickness when you travel by car:

  • Sit in the front seat.
  • Don't read or watch TV or videos.
In a plane

When you travel by airplane:

  • Ask for a seat near the wings.
  • Eat small meals of foods that are easy to digest before and during a long flight. This may help reduce nausea and vomiting.
On a ship or boat

When you travel by ship or boat:

  • Book a cabin near the middle of a ship and near the waterline. Sit in the middle of a boat.
  • Try to get fresh air.
  • Look at a fixed point on the horizon.

Many people try other methods of preventing motion sickness, such as taking powdered ginger capsules or wearing acupressure wristbands. There isn't much evidence that they help, but it's safe to try them.

Frequently Asked Questions

Learning about motion sickness:

Living with motion sickness:

Other Places To Get Help

Organization

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Travelers' Health (U.S.)
TDD: 1-888-232-6348
Web Address: wwwn.cdc.gov/travel

References

Other Works Consulted

  • Carroll ID (2012). Motion sickness. In GW Brunette et al., eds., CDC Health Information for International Travel 2012: The Yellow Book. New York: Oxford University Press. Also available online: http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/yellowbook/2012/chapter-2-the-pre-travel-consultation/motion-sickness.htm.
  • Jacobs ME, Hawley CG (2012). Safety and survival at sea. In PS Auerbach, ed., Wilderness Medicine, 6th ed., pp. 1666–1692. Philadelphia: Mosby.
  • Krilov LR (2011). Travel medicine. In ET Bope et al., eds., Conn's Current Therapy 2011, pp. 158–163. Philadelphia: Saunders.

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Anne C. Poinier, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Brian D. O'Brien, MD - Internal Medicine
Current as of March 17, 2014

This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information. Your use of this information means that you agree to the Terms of Use. How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.

© 1995-2014 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.