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Motion Sickness: Symptoms, Causes, and Tips

Posted May 10, 2019

What is Motion Sickness?

Motion sickness is a sort of miscommunication between the senses. The brain receives signals from the inner ears, muscles, eyes, and joints to sense movement. For example: when you’re reading a book in the car your eyes are focused on the book and don’t sense the movement, though your inner ear does. These mixed signals lead to motion sickness, and the not-so-good feelings that follow.

Symptoms of Motion Sickness

So, what does it feel like to have motion sickness? That “green behind the gills” feeling commonly includes nausea and vomiting, dizziness, sweating, shortness of breath, headache, a general feeling of unease, and drowsiness. Of course, these symptoms can vary by person, and some people experience more severe symptoms than others. Even in those who get motion sickness, the symptoms can vary. For some rides they may be perfectly fine, and others they could feel like they’re stuck in some bizarre carnival ride.

Who Gets Motion Sickness?

Basically, anyone can experience motion sickness. It’s a common condition that’s been wrangled with likely since the dawn of travel. More than 2,000 years ago, Greek physician and writer Hippocrates wrote, “sailing on the sea proves that motion disorders the body.”

That said, not everyone gets sick from traveling. Some people are more prone to motion sickness and experience it much more frequently. There’s still much to be learned about what makes certain people more susceptible. There are theories that genetics are involved but nothing concrete has been established. Surveys show that women tend to get motion sickness more than men. It’s hypothesized that hormone variations, particularly during the menstrual cycle, are the cause.

Tips to Prevent and Alleviate Motion Sickness

There are many tips, tricks, and recommendations made to prevent or lessen motion sickness. Some of the more common and reliable tips are:

  • Be selective of your seating. If you’re in a car, the passenger seat tends to work best. On a boat, a seat nearest the midpoint is recommended. For trains, sit near a window and facing forward. Sitting over the wings is recommended on airplanes. These seats tend to experience fewer bumps and allow you to see the horizon.
  • Focus on the horizon. Looking toward the direction of travel can help re-orient your sense of balance by having your different senses affirm the motion and get in sync with each other.
  • Avoid using things like books, tablets, or gaming devices. Distracting yourself with an enjoyable book or browsing your phone may seem like a good idea but can make the symptoms worse or even bring on motion sickness.
  • Bring water for the ride. Staying hydrated is crucial for overall good health and can help with motion sickness as well. Avoid alcohol before or during travels; that’s just asking for trouble.
  • Watch what you eat. Abstain from eating heavy, rich, and spicy foods before or during travel. Opt for smaller, lighter meals, waiting until you reach your destination to be more adventurous.
  • Get some air. If you’re in a car, roll down the window or turn on the air conditioner. On an airplane, aim the overhead air vent toward you. For instances where you can’t control the air flow, bring a small battery-powered fan or hand fan to help.
  • Take your supplements. Some substances, like ginger and vitamin B6, have shown to help prevent or alleviate the symptoms of motion sickness. Take them around half an hour before travel and every 4 hours after, if you’re traveling long distance. If you’re pregnant or nursing, check with your healthcare practitioner before taking.


Beck, Julie. (2015, February 15). The Mysterious Science of Motion Sickness [Article]. Retrieved from https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2015/02/the-mysterious-science-of-motion-sickness/385469/

Davis, Charles P. (2016, August 6). Motion Sickness [Article]. Retrieved from https://www.medicinenet.com/motion_sickness_sea_sickness_car_sickness/article.htm

Familydoctor.org Editorial Staff (2017, January 17). Motion Sickness [Article]. Retrieved from https://familydoctor.org/condition/motion-sickness/

Kraft, Sy. (2017, June 21). What’s to Know About Motion Sickness? [Article]. Retrieved from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/176198.php

Vora, Shivani. (2017, February 23). How to Deal With Motion Sickness [Article]. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/23/travel/how-to-deal-with-motion-sickness.html