Motion sickness: definition, causes, symptoms, treatment and prevention

Also called motion sickness or simply dizziness, it is a common inner ear disorder.


Motion sickness occurs when your brain receives conflicting messages about your body’s movement and position in space.

Conflicting messages are transmitted from the inner ear, eyes (what you see), skin receptors (what you feel), and muscle and joint sensors.

For example, you might feel dizzy because your eyes can’t see the turbulence that is shaking the plane from side to side. Motion sickness can occur with any mode of travel: boat, plane, train, bus, or car.

What are the symptoms of motion sickness?

Symptoms of motion sickness include dizziness, sweating, nausea, and vomiting. Symptoms can appear suddenly, going from simply not feeling well to a cold sweat, dizziness, and then vomiting.

Motion sickness is more common in women and children ages 2 to 12. People who suffer from migraines are also more prone to dizziness.

What can I do to prevent or minimize motion sickness?

If you know you have dizziness or may be prone, consider this tip:

  • On a ship: When making your reservations, choose a cabin in the center of the ship and close to the waterline. When you’re on board, go up on deck and focus on the horizon.
  • On an airplane: ask for a window seat and look out the window. A seat on the leading edge of the wing is the most preferable place (the degree of movement is the lowest here). Direct the air vent to blow cool air onto your face.
  • On a train : always facing forward and sit near a window.
  • In a vehicle: sit in the front seat; If you are the passenger, look at the scenery in the distance. For some people, driving the vehicle (rather than being a passenger) is an instant remedy.

Other tips to prevent or minimize motion sickness:

  • Do not read in a moving vehicle. If you are prone to dizziness, your reading is likely to get worse.
  • Get enough rest. Get a good night’s sleep the night before your trip. Being tired can make you more susceptible to dizziness.
  • Avoid fatty or acidic foods. Avoid heavy, fatty and acidic foods in the hours before traveling. These types of foods, such as coffee, orange juice / grapefruit juice, bacon, hot dogs, and pancakes, are slow to digest and, in the case of coffee, can accelerate dehydration. The best options include breads, cereals, grains, milk, water, apple juice, apples, or bananas. Don’t stop eating, but don’t overeat.
  • Drink plenty of water to keep your mouth moist and urine clear.
  • Do not drink large amounts of alcohol the night before your trip. Alcohol accelerates dehydration and generally reduces your body’s resistance to motion sickness, if you are prone to it.
  • Stand up if you feel dizzy. Get up, if you can, and look to the horizon. Despite what you may think, sitting or lying down can make you feel worse.
  • Don’t smoke and avoid others who smoke.
  • Eat dry crackers. Dry crackers can help calm an upset stomach.
  • Use the headrest of the seat. Lean your head against the back of the seat or rest your head when riding in vehicles with seats to minimize head movements.
  • Avoid those who are nauseated with motion sickness. Seeing and smelling other people who are dizzy can make you sick.

How is motion sickness or motion sickness treated?

Motion sickness can be treated with over-the-counter products and prescription drugs.

Over-the-counter products : Antihistamines are commonly used to prevent and treat motion sickness. Antihistamines to consider for this purpose include meclizine (Antivert®, Bonine®), dimenhydrinate (Dramamine®), and diphenhydramine (Benadryl®).

The side effect of these medications is drowsiness. Meclizine is much less sedating, making it a preferred treatment. Non-sedating antihistamines such as fexofenadine (Allegra®) are not effective in treating motion sickness.

Prescription Products: Oral Scopolamine Lozenges and Skin Patch (Transderm Scop®) is another option. The patch formulation is applied to the skin area behind the ear and can help prevent motion sickness for up to three days per patch.

Scopolamine can create a bothersome dry mouth side effect. Certain patients with glaucoma and other health problems should not use this drug.

Be sure to tell your doctor about your existing health problems so he or she can determine which medication is best for you.

Of the above drug products, the use of dimenhydrinate and diphenhydramine is only recommended in young children.

Non-pharmaceutical remedies

Numerous non-pharmacological options have been promoted as useful for alleviating or preventing motion sickness. In most cases, the evidence supporting these products is not as rigorous as that for approved drugs.

However, you may want to try one of these options:

  • Aromatherapy with ginger or lavender can help.
  • Oral use of ginger or peppermint can calm the stomach. Ginger, pill or powder, is available at many herbal or health food stores. Eating peppermint is also believed to be generally calming.
  • Acupressure bracelets can prevent nausea for some.