Motion Sickness

What is Motion Sickness?

Motion sickness is a very common issue where you become dizzy or nauseous from riding in a moving vehicle. About a third of people suffer from motion sickness, which occurs when the visual signals that your eyes send to your brain don’t correspond to the signals sent by your inner ear, which helps to manage your balance.

Some people get motion sickness only from one type of vehicle, such as a car or a plane, or from amusement park rides. It most commonly affects younger people, but anyone can get motion sickness. If you can’t see out the window of the vehicle or see the horizon, the lack of visual stimuli can cause the problem.

For some people, knowing that you may have motion sickness can lead to anxiety, which means you’re more likely to have symptoms.

What are the Symptoms of Motion Sickness?

If you have motion sickness, you’re likely to feel dizzy and nauseous, and you may even vomit. Sometimes you’ll also get a headache and start to sweat or feel overheated.

Some people with motion sickness can become anxious and develop shortness of breath or difficulty breathing.

Motion Sickness Causes

Motion sickness is a condition that is caused by excessive stimulation of the inner ear. This area of the ear can be stimulated too much by repetitive motions. It is common to get this condition when the repetitive motion of riding in a car, an airplane, a boat or an amusement park ride causes specific stimulation that interferes with the control of balance. One of the most common theories about why this occurs is that the positioning of the body and the images taken in with the eyes contradict the inner ear’s message of movement. The contradiction between appearing not to be movement while movement is felt is what causes the body’s reactions. The body is unsure how to react to this movement, and the sickness sets in. It is not necessary for actual motion to cause motion sickness. The appearance of motion such as from immersive video games, watching a shaky movie or riding a virtual reality ride can also create this motion contradiction. This, in turn, causes the sickness by stimulating the body’s defense mechanism. Some research suggests this results from the brain’s belief that the body has been poisoned.

How is Motion Sickness Treated?

Getting out of or stopping the vehicle will often end the feeling of motion sickness. Sitting where you can see outside the vehicle or where the ride is smoothest, such as over the wings of a large plane, can help you to feel more comfortable. Proper ventilation or cool air can also make you feel better.

People who are susceptible to motion sickness may take an over-the-counter or prescription medication before travel. You shouldn’t take motion sickness medication if you will be operating a vehicle, as it can make you feel drowsy.

Some people also benefit from taking herbal supplements with ginger or peppermint, which can calm the stomach, or by using breathing techniques to overcome anxiety.

Motion Sickness Prevention

If you will be traveling for a long period of time, avoid alcohol, greasy food and spicy foods. All of these can make nausea worse. Before motion sickness begins, or once it has started, try reducing the movement of your head. Looking straight ahead toward a stationary horizon can help the condition. Lying down or closing your eyes can also help by reducing the contradictory signals that are sent to the brain. Avoid strong odors, as these can bring on nausea. Get fresh air by opening a window or positioning an air vent toward your face. If you are riding in a car, sit in the front seat to make motion sickness less likely.

Last Reviewed:
October 10, 2016
Last Updated:
March 09, 2018