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Motion Sickness

What is motion sickness?

Motion Sickness Care Guide

  • Motion sickness, also known as travel sickness, is a condition that affects your senses and vestibular system. Your senses include the eyes, ears, and other parts of your body that receive and respond to stimuli, such as skin, muscles, and joints. The vestibular system helps keep you in balance, whether you are moving or not moving. It is made up of the inner ear, nerves, and brain. The inner ear contains the nerve of the ear and small organs for hearing and maintaining your balance. The inner ear is filled with fluid that acts as a sensor when you change the position of your head.



  • Normally, the brain receives sets of messages from all of your senses and vestibular system. These messages are put together in the brain to make a picture of your position of your body. With motion sickness, opposing messages that are coming from the different senses and vestibular system do not agree with each other. When this mismatch of information happens, the brain cannot piece together the messages to make a picture. This confuses your brain, which tells you that something is wrong by causing motion sickness.

What causes motion sickness?

Motion sickness may occur with or without you moving. Watching a movie on a large screen or a movie scene that involves a shaking motion may cause motion sickness. It may also be caused by virtual reality rides in amusement parks. Certain foods and drinks may make motion sickness worse, such as those with increased salt, caffeine, or alcohol content. Caffeine may be found in coffee, tea, soda, and some sports foods and drinks. The following factors or conditions may increase your risk of having motion sickness:

  • Diseases, such ear problems or infections, migraine headaches, or poor blood flow in the body.

  • Not having enough fresh air or being around unpleasant smoke, fumes, or odors.

  • Pregnancy or monthly periods.

  • Riding in a car, boat, plane, train, or on carnival rides.

  • Stress and strong emotions, such as fear, anxiety, or depression.

What are the signs and symptoms of motion sickness?

You may have any of the following:

  • Common symptoms:

    • Dizziness or light-headedness.

    • Increased amount of saliva (spit).

    • Nausea (upset stomach) or vomiting (throwing up)

    • Skin may turn pale, feel cold, or become sweaty.

  • Other symptoms:

    • Breathing faster than usual.

    • Burping or passing gas.

    • Drowsiness or headache.

    • Feeling anxious or panicky.

    • Sighing or yawning.

How is motion sickness diagnosed?

Your caregiver will take a detailed health history from you. This may include information on what triggered your motion sickness, when it started, and how long it lasted. You may also be asked to provide information about your past diseases, travels, activities, injuries, and medicines. You may need any of the following:

  • Physical exam: Your caregiver will do a complete physical exam on you. He may do positional testing by moving your head in different directions. This test will check to see if a problem in the inner ear is causing your motion sickness. You may be asked to do some exercises that could make you dizzy.

  • Tests: Different tests may be done depending on the disease or condition that your caregiver thinks may be causing your motion sickness. This may be based on your health history and other signs and symptoms. It may also be based on the findings he may get from your physical exam. You may have any of the following:

    • Blood tests: You may need blood taken to give caregivers information about how your body is working. The blood may be taken from your hand, arm, or IV.

    • Electronystagmography: This test is also called an ENG. An ENG is done to test for problems you may have with balance or dizziness. Sticky pads with wires are placed on the skin around your eyes. The wires are connected to a special machine that records information during your ENG. Warm and cool air or water is put into your ears while your eye movements are recorded. Do not drink alcohol or eat a heavy meal before this test. You may feel dizzy or sick to your stomach after the test.

How is motion sickness treated?

Caregivers may tell you to avoid things or situations that may trigger an attack of motion sickness. You may also have any of the following:

  • Medicines: Anti-motion sickness medicines may be given to prevent or relieve your motion sickness. You may also be given medicines to relieve symptoms caused by motion sickness, such as nausea, dizziness, vomiting, and headache.

  • Stress management: Since it is hard to avoid stress, learn ways to control it. Deep breathing, meditation, and listening to music may help you cope with stressful events. A form of behavior therapy may be used to help decrease or prevent your symptoms. You may also talk to someone about things that upset you. Talk to your caregiver about other ways to manage stress.
With treatment, such as medicine, your motion sickness may be prevented and your quality of life improved.

How to prevent an attack of motion sickness?

You may do the following to help prevent motion sickness:

  • Learn how to drive and be the driver. This may help you have the feeling that you are in control. Knowing when the car is going to turn or stop may also help you to decrease or control your motion sickness.

  • Do not eat big meals or drink alcohol or caffeine before and during travel.

  • Do not sit in a seat that faces backward. Choose the area with the least amount of motion and the smoothest ride. Sit in the front seat of a car or near the wing of an airplane. Staying in the first cars of a train or in the middle part of a boat may also help to decrease motion sickness.

  • Keep your head still and rest it against a head rest. Do not read or play video games while traveling, especially if you have had motion sickness before.

  • Relax and try to keep your eyes above the horizon, which is where the earth meets the sky. Do not look at moving things, such as waves or fixed objects, such as trees.

  • Stay away from cigarette or tobacco smoke. Avoid sitting where people are smoking or where unpleasant odors are present.

  • Take anti-motion sickness medicine at least one hour before travel. Ask your caregiver for more information about anti-motion sickness medicines.

Where can I find support and more information?

Having motion sickness may be hard for you and your family. Contact the following for more information:

  • American Academy of Family Physicians
    11400 Tomahawk Creek Parkway
    Leawood , KS 66211-2680
    Phone: 1- 913 - 906-6000
    Phone: 1- 800 - 274-2237
    Web Address: http://www.aafp.org

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

© 2013 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.

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