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Motion Sickness Frequently Asked Questions

Image shows a blurry road, sea waves and train tracks to illustrate motion sickness

What is motion sickness?

Motion sickness is your body’s response to the sensory disorientation caused by unfamiliar or extreme motion – anything from the swell of the sea or the swoop of a roller coaster to the motion of a car or a train. Additionally, a number of factors, including tiredness, alcohol and strong smells, can trigger or exacerbate motion sickness.

Motion sickness affects everyone differently, however the ‘classic’ symptoms are headache, shortness of breath, cold sweats, nausea, dizziness and – ultimately – vomiting.

Is there a difference between motion sickness and sea sickness (and other forms of travel sickness)?

Motion sickness and travel sickness (of all kinds) are all exactly the same thing. Some people are unlucky enough to suffer from motion sickness in nearly all its forms, but for others one particular form – often sea sickness – is predominant. The causes, symptoms and treatments of all types of motion sickness are the same.

What does motion sickness affect?

With motion sickness everyone really is different. At one end of the scale are the small number of people who seem to be completely immune to motion sickness in any form. However, this is rare. Many people, for example, find it a challenge to read while traveling in the rear seat of a car, and repeated amusement park rides will affect most people. A surprising number of people feel ill while watching 3D movies and, at its most extreme, motion sickness can affect people traveling in lifts and even sitting in rocking chairs.

Young children, pregnant women, and those with underlying medical conditions (especially those taking medication that can cause nausea and vomiting) are more likely to be affected by motion sickness. 

There also appears to be a genetic aspect. Children of motion sickness sufferers can be up to five times more likely to be sufferers themselves.

If I get car sick, will I get sea sick too?

Every vehicle, form of transport and amusement park ride has its own unique pattern of movement and vibrations, and you are likely to be more susceptible to certain motions than others. What makes one person ill may not affect the next person at all. And someone who gets car sick may or may not get sea sick (or vice versa). Unfortunately, the only way to find out if something affects you is to try it. Remember, though, that anxiety and worry make you more likely to get sick. 

If I was really sick last time I went on a ship/plane/ride etc, will it be the same next time?

Motion sickness is most likely to occur when you take a form of transport or experience a new form of motion for the first time. Symptoms will often start to fade with increased exposure, however some people never learn to tolerate certain patterns of motion (hence sailors with life-long chronic sea sickness). There is some evidence that motion sickness can be ‘learned behavior’ – in other words your body follows the same response pattern as it did last time when faced with the same or similar pattern of movement. If this seems to be happening to you, work particularly on relaxation and positive thinking and consider trying a treatment such as habituation exercises or hypnosis.

How serious is motion sickness?

You can’t die of motion sickness – although, in the midst of your suffering, you may wish you could! In extreme cases, vomiting can result in you becoming dangerously dehydrated, but this is uncommon. Dehydration is of most danger to scuba divers who then have an increased risk of decompression illness. The good news is that, horrible though motion sickness can be, the majority of people recover as soon as they are back on firm ground, and suffer no lasting effects. A few unfortunate people may have trouble readjusting, and can continue to experience motion sickness-like symptoms despite the movement having stopped.

Image shows ginger root, queasy drops and acupressure wristbands to help combat motion sickness.

Is there a cure for motion sickness?

There is no single ‘cure’ for motion sickness, however there are numerous ways to limit its effects, and many people are able to prevent the symptoms entirely. There is a range of anti-motion sickness medications available, but many cause side effects that range from mild but annoying to quite severe. For most people, motion sickness is self-treatable such as acupressure and non-medicated remedies and treatments before resorting to medications.

Is motion sickness real? Or is it ‘all in the mind’?

This often-asked question is sure to anger anyone who has ever suffered motion sickness! Yes, motion sickness is definitely a real, physical condition. Having said that, there does also appear to be a psychosomatic aspect. In other words, motion sickness is a physical condition that, in some cases, can be triggered or made worse by mental factors, such as anxiety and stress. Thus, for some people at least, positive thinking can be of help in controlling motion sickness symptoms.

What’s the best way to prevent motion sickness?

As we all experience and respond to motion differently, there is no single remedy or medication that has universal positive effect. Various remedies, treatments and medications work for different people, so it is impossible to say what will work best for you as an individual. Generally, however, acupressure and wristbands work well if used correctly. They are widely available, so definitely worth a try.

Ginger is a great help for many people and so are travel sickness sweets. Prescription motion sickness patches are widely considered to be the most effective of the medications, however the side effects can range from unpleasant to severe and some people cannot tolerate them at all. Motion sickness injections / shots appear to relieve symptoms for pretty much everyone, but consist of a major dose of drugs that can have serious side effects. They are also costly and have to be administered by a doctor. It’s your call, of course, but it may be wise to explore what else is available, and keep medications for the last resort.

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