How to prevent Motion Sickness - October 2021

By Maria O'Farrell Carr

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Hippocrates wrote about his observations on symptoms of motion sickness, noting that “sailing on the sea proves that motion disorders the body.” Motion sickness is also known as airsickness, seasickness, carsickness, or the medical term kinetosis. This common and complex syndrome occurs when a “sensory conflict” occurs between our visual and vestibular (balance) systems. The brain cannot make sense of information sent from the motion-detecting parts of the body, i.e., the eyes, inner ears, muscles and joints. You feel sick because of your brain’s confused reaction. Experiencing motion in a car, boat, airplane, amusement park, or elevator ride can lead to motion sickness, as can perceived motion when playing a video game or using a flight simulator. According to clinical evidence, between 25 and 60 percent of cruise ship passengers experience motion sickness while travelling. The Merck Manual website indicates that less than one percent of airplane passengers experience motion sickness, while nearly 100 percent of people on boats in rough seas will experience motion sickness. While motion sickness does not cause long-term problems, it can be disruptive for people who travel frequently. 

Factors that increase the risk of experiencing motion sickness

  • Being in certain age groups - while motion sickness can affect anyone, it more often affects children 5 to 12 years old, women and older adults. It is not common in children under two years of age 
  • Having a family history of motion sickness - one in three people is considered “highly susceptible” to motion sickness. Having a first-degree relative, i.e., a parent or sibling with high susceptibility to motion increases the likelihood of motion sickness compared to the general public. Dr. Steven Rauch, an ear specialist and chief of the vestibular (balance) division of Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary, explains that some people are “wired differently” for processing motion and movement. Currently, researchers do not know why some people are better able than others to tolerate sensory conflict. Susceptibility seems to be partly related to genetics. The US National Library of Medicine MedlinePlus website explains that motion sickness is polygenic, i.e., it involves variations in many genes. Little research has examined the specific genes involved 
  • Taking hormonal birth control or having a menstrual period 
  • Having inner ear disorders
  • Being prone to migraines or having a migraine (especially people with a balance disorder called vestibular migraine)
  • Having Parkinson’s disease
  • Having had a traumatic brain injury
  • Having fear or anxiety about travelling
  • Being in a poorly ventilated area when travelling 
  • Being pregnant
  • Taking certain medications such as some antibiotics, narcotics, antidepressants, and some over-the-counter medications such as ibuprofen (Advil®) or naproxen (Aleve®)
  • Having Asian background - the US National Library of Medicine notes people of an Asian background experience motion sickness more than people with a European background 
  • Having a high fitness level - cross-sectional studies show increased susceptibility in persons with high aerobic fitness levels, which may be due to a more reactive autonomic system. The Merck Manual website explains that the autonomic nervous system regulates specific body processes, such as blood pressure and the rate of breathing and works without a person’s conscious effort (autonomously)

People experience symptoms when they are in motion, and symptoms usually go away when the motion stops, with symptoms resolving entirely within 24 hours. Symptoms may begin suddenly and can be diverse: 

  • Increased saliva, nausea and vomiting (the most common symptoms)
  • Dizziness
  • Restlessness
  • Irritability
  • Blurred vision
  • Fatigue 
  • Loss of appetite
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Headache
  • Pale skin 
  • Clammy/cold sweats
  • Rapid breathing/gulping for air
  • Frequent yawning can be the first sign of motion sickness

Rarely, the situation can become serious if a person cannot stop vomiting, which leads to dehydration and low blood pressure. 

People can take medications to prevent or reduce nausea and vomiting. Medications include prophylactic (medication designed and used to prevent a disease from occurring) drugs (e.g., scopolamine - a prescription patch worn behind the ear before travelling, antihistamines, antidopaminergic drugs) and antiemetics (to reduce nausea). Most people can prevent motion sickness by pre-emptively taking medication, but medication cannot cure motion sickness. In an article in StatPearls, co-authors Veronica Takov and Prasanna Tadi note that drugs are only partially effective and may have adverse side effects. Be aware that taking motion sickness medications and central nervous system depressants such as opioids, alcohol, sleeping pills, and other antidepressants can cause dangerous levels of drowsiness. Speak with your doctor or pharmacist about medications for motion sickness. Behavioural techniques are among the most effective treatments and should be the first step or combined with medications. Techniques include: 

  • Eat some dry soda crackers
  • Breathe in herb scents such as ginger, lavender or mint 
  • Suck on hard candies made with peppermint or ginger 
  • Sip on clear carbonated non-caffeinated drinks such as ginger ale
  • Get fresh air
  • Lie down or, at a minimum, keep your head from moving. Close your eyes 
  • Use a distraction such as music 
  • Use controlled, mindful breathing
  • Avoid travelling in turbulent conditions or when visibility is low 

Prevention is the best course of action since motion sickness is hard to stop after it starts. The only way to prevent symptoms is to stop the motion, which is not always possible when on a plane or ship. Steps to prevent motion sickness include: 

  • Try to move your head as little as possible and always face forward
  • Before travelling, do not eat a heavy meal or drink alcohol which can aggravate nausea. Instead, eat low-fat bland and digestible starchy foods and avoid greasy, spicy or acidic foods. Drink lots of water. During short trips, do not eat or drink. 
  • Do not smoke  
  • Avoid strong odours 
  • In a car, do not look down to read or watch videos. Instead, look at a fixed point in the distance (an object or the horizon). Sit in the front seat and ideally be the driver as drivers experience less motion sickness than passengers, possibly because the muscles move to control the car and let your brain know that movement is occurring  
  • In a plane, ask for a seat near the wings where there is less motion
  • In a ship/boat, arrange to be in the middle of the boat on a lower level where there is less motion 

The most effective long-term countermeasure is habituation (continuous exposure). The military uses this method for members who cannot take medications. In the case of boat travel, some people can benefit from spending more time on the water in smoother conditions to prepare for longer and rougher trips. 

Acupressure wrist bands 
The claim is that nausea and vomiting are stopped by applying pressure on a specific point on the wrist known as the P6 or pericardium 6, located 2 to 3 fingers width from the skin crease between the palm and wrist. The theory behind acupressure is that applying pressure keeps the energy flowing throughout the body. Unfortunately, studies on the effectiveness of wristbands are contradictory, vary in their designs which makes comparison challenging, and are low quality. Jonathan Jerry, MSc, of McGill University’s Office for Science and Society, reached out to Timothy Caulfield, Canada Research Chair in Health Law and Policy at the University of Alberta, who experiences motion sickness. In reviewing the literature, Caulfield’s opinion is that these wristbands have “some degree of modest efficacy,” but he did not find them helpful for his motion sickness. HealthLink BC states that there isn’t much evidence that these wristbands help, “but it’s safe to try them.” Benefits include no side effects and low cost, although some wrist bands can cost up to $300. Another possible reason the wristbands may be effective is the placebo effect or the belief that you won’t get sick by wearing the bands.  

Motion sickness glasses
CompMaria's Irish Toursanies including the French automaker Citreon are making motion sickness glasses, which the producers claim cure 96 percent of cases of motion sickness in their initial tests. The glasses have four lenses with two in the front and one on each side. Tubes around the rims are half-filled with blue or red liquid that moves with the motion to provide an artificial horizon. People wear the glasses as soon as they feel any motion sickness symptoms for 10 minutes or until the symptoms subside.

In her review of motion sickness glasses, author Laurel Palmer notes that although there is a lack of research, a study using artificial horizons to manage motion sickness had positive results. In her trial of these glasses for both a car and boat ride, she found a “modest” benefit but couldn’t justify the price of 90 pounds. However, she did add that she could not see the liquid in the rim of the glasses. Someone skeptical of the benefits of motion sickness glasses is Thomas Stoffregan, a professor of kinesiology at the University of Minnesota and a motion sickness researcher. His view is that providing an artificial horizon has “never worked” and instead promotes a stable posture in a moving environment. He tells Scientific American that the best way to address motion sickness is to look at an actual horizon, e.g., getting on the ship deck or sitting in the front seat of a car and using the headrest. 

People who should not use motion sickness glasses include people with epilepsy, migraine, glaucoma or pregnant women, and people who are taking certain medications.

  • Video from the Doctors of Australia website
  • Video from TED Talk website - Rose Eveleth: The mystery of motion sickness 
Sources: HealthLink BC website, McGill Office for Science and Society website, Kaiser Permanente® website, Healthline website, WebMD website, WebMD website, Health Panel website, ENT & Audiology News website, MedlinePlus website, StatPearls website, Otology & Neurotology website, UK Meds website, Cleveland Clinic website, Merck Manual website, Merck Manual website, Smithsonian Magazine website, Drugs in Context journal website, The Conversation website   

Maria O'Farrell CarrMaria's Bio: Maria is a gifted healer, intuitive and medical intuitive from Ireland. She carries a vast wealth of experience from a life of passionate exploration of the profound healing and ancient Irish intuitive gifts she inherited from her mother and going back to her grandmothers, two great uncles who were well known healers of the sick and even as far back as her great, great, great, grandfather (b. 1837) who was known as the Irish Healer of Animals. Her depth of knowledge and wisdom comes from her deep study and relentless research. Maria offers Celtic Intuitive & Angel Card Reading thru Skype or phone to any were in the world. Maria grew up in Ireland and has travelled to over 16 countries and visited 245 cities. She has lived and travelled to Australia, Canada, North and South America, Europe and many places around the world. Maria has lived in the Okanagan, BC, Canada for years. She now lives part-time also back home in Ireland in the Spring and Autumn. Maria is the founder and publisher of 'OK In Health eMagazine' and Web site since 2014. is a beam of light in the wellness community. Maria was awarded the 2008 SOWINS, Women Up Front and Centre - Health & Wellness Award for her work on OK In Health eMagazine and the community. Over the years she has also worked as an Event Organizer and brought instructors to the Okanagan from all over the world. Maria was also involved at the grass root level in bringing in Dr Deepak Chopra. Gregg Braden and Dr. Wayne Dyer to the Okanagan valley. Maria has a wealth of experience in travel, as a healer and in events organizing. Maria hosts a weekly Health Column in 5 Okanagan newspapers. In 2013, Maria brought 30 people to Ireland for the 14 day Celtic Angel Ireland Tour and since then brings two tours over to Ireland each year. Maria has published two books on Sacred Ireland and is working on her third book. Maria continues to enjoy studying, travelling, offering sessions, working on OK In Health eMagazine, loving life in the beautiful Okanagan Valley and the Sacred Ireland Tours. - Maria O'Farrell Carr Website - Email

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