Drug Free Relief for Motion Sickness

What is it?


Who Gets it?

What Causes it?


What is Motion Sickness

Motion sickness is dizziness, nausea and possibly vomiting that occurs when traveling in a moving vehicle such as a car, boat, or airplane.  Each form of transportation seems to have its own specific term (car sickness, sea sickness, altitude sickness) but all refer to the same problem.  The term “motion sickness” will be used throughout this material to refer to all of these forms of sickness.  The specific terms will be used only when the material is unique to that form of sickness.

Motion sickness is usually just a minor annoyance and does not signify any serious medical illness.  Symptoms are often treatable and, even when not treated, the symptoms go away shortly after the motion stops.  However, severe cases and those that become progressively worse deserve the attention of a physician with specialized skills in diseases of the ear, nose, throat, equilibrium, and neurological systems.  

Symptoms of Motion Sickness

Motion sickness produces a whole range of symptoms, of which nausea and vomiting are the most severe. Symptoms generally follow a path of increasing severity.  Abrupt vomiting without early warning or the presence of other symptoms is rare, usually only occurring in space flight and other zero-G situations. 

Early indications of motion sickness onset may include:  

  • Pallor (paleness, especially in the face)
  • Headache
  • Increased salivation and swallowing
  • Eructation (the medical term for belching and burping)
  • Flatulence (the medical term for passing gas)
  • Feeling Faint
  • Feeling cold and clammy
  • Breaking out in sweat, especially on the upper lip or forehead
  • Yawning and drowsiness OR feeling giddy or restless

    As symptoms build, the following may occur:    

  • Upset stomach
  • Nausea (the sensation associated with anticipation of vomiting)
  • Emesis (the medical term for vomiting)
  • Retching (unproductive vomiting movements or dry heaves).

 Who Gets Motion Sickness?

It is not known why some people develop motion sickness and others do not.  While most everyone experiences motion sickness at one time or another, statistics have been able to show who is more likely to experience motion sickness.  Remember, falling into one of these categories does not guarantee that you will experience motion sickness.  You may be an exception.  However, knowing your risk factor may help you to be prepared with remedies “just in case”.

Those more susceptible to experience motion sickness are:

·         women

·         passengers (those in control experience less motion sickness)

·         children

·         adults under the age of 50 (Adults over the age of 50 rarely suffer from motion sickness)

·         people of Asian ancestry

·         anyone fearful and anxious during a trip

·         those prone to experiencing nausea or vomiting

·         those prone to experiencing migraine headaches  

You are more susceptible (not guaranteed) to experience motion sickness if you have:

·         an inner ear disturbance, especially a recent one

·         an unusually good vestibular (inner ear) function

·         a rare, central nervous system disorder of the part of the brain that processes signals from the inner ear

·         a hangover

·         eaten fatty, spicy or greasy foods

·         consumed citric juices  

Many medical conditions or medications may cause nausea and vomiting.  Experiencing motion sickness may worsen the nausea and vomiting already associated with the condition/medication.

·         inner ear infections

·         diabetes

·         gall bladder disease

·         dehydration

·         chemotherapy agents

·         antibiotics  

Passengers are far more prone to motion sickness than those at the controls. There are at least two separate reasons for this.

·         Motion sickness is triggered by discrepancies between anticipated orientation and actual orientation. If you're at the controls of the airplane (or boat or car), you tend to know what's coming and this seems to confer a certain amount of immunity.

·         Being in control of how long the flight or trip will last and having the ability to end it at will is an important factor in relieving the anxiety that contributes to motion sickness.  

If you fall into several categories listed above, remember, motion sickness is a condition that may become more tolerable with time and exposure. A study of military pilot trainees showed that roughly 17 percent experience motion sickness serious enough to interfere with aircraft control, but only about 1 percent actually wash out due to airsickness. The rest simply learn to deal with the sensory conflicts. The same is true of aerobatic pilots.  Almost everyone experiences symptoms of motion sickness on first exposure to high-G maneuvers, but those who stick with it tend to develop more tolerance over time.

What Causes Motion Sickness?


Motion sickness is a conflict between your senses.  The brain relies on messages from your inner ear, muscles, and eyes to tell it how your body is moving. When any of these systems send different messages, you can get queasy.

Some examples include:

·         If you're reading in the car, your inner ear knows you're moving, but your muscles think that you are sitting still and your eyes don't see anything moving because they're looking at the page.

·         On an airplane or in the cabin of a boat or ship, your inner ear senses the motion, but your eyes only see the cabin, which looks stationary.  Your body may sense rolling motions that you cannot see from inside a cabin.

·         Conversely, during a "virtual reality" simulation, your eyes perceive movement that your body (inner ear and muscles) does not experience.  

These conflicting signals end up at the nausea center of the brain and motion sickness is the result.

Motion sickness can be understood in more technical terms.  Our brains and body rely on the vestibular apparatus, the three semicircular canals of the inner ear, to maintain our balance.  Each canal detects our position within a certain plane of space, also known as our spatial orientation.  This allows us to move around in a three-dimensional world while remaining balanced. 

Each of the three canals is responsible for detecting a particular plane of space (up/down, left/right, front/back).  Within each of these canals are small calcium deposits that are called otoliths (ear stones). Anytime we move out of a particular plane of space these little stones move and nerve transmissions send signals to our brain.  In most situations of movement, this is not a problem for the brain to handle. However, in some situations in which movement is chaotic (like in a boat, car or airplane) the brain may misinterpret the nerve transmissions.  For some this may eventually cause queasiness, nausea and possibly vomiting.

As noted earlier, our sense of sight can contribute to our brain’s confusion about our position and movement.  Some smells can also contribute to the onset of nausea and vomiting, so it’s best to avoid nauseating odors. 

Motion Sickness Prevention

 Several Days or Weeks ahead of time

  • Talk to your physician or pharmacist.  Try any motion sickness medication you care to try well before your trip. This way you’ll be aware its side effects on you well ahead of time, giving you the opportunity to try another medication if necessary.

 24 hours ahead of time

  • Avoid alcoholic beverages at least 24 hours before travel.
  • Avoid fatty, spicy, greasy or old food.
  • Get plenty of rest/sleep before traveling.
  • Take ginger capsules

Up to a few hours ahead of time

  • Eat a light meal.  Carbohydrates (bagels, crackers) help to settle the stomach.
  • Avoid any beverages that may cause upset stomach or dehydration (acidic juices, carbonated drinks, alcohol, caffeine).
  • Review your maps ahead of time, especially if you are the passenger expected to navigate.
  • Make use of motion sickness prevention products in advance.  See the product instructions and follow manufacturer’s advice.
  • Take ginger capsules or eat gingersnap cookies (flat ginger ale may be effective if it contains ginger root).

While Traveling

  • Eat bland foods such as crackers, bread, bananas, rice, applesauce or toast.
  • Drink plenty of fluids (not caffeine, alcohol, acidic or carbonated drinks).  Water or milk is recommended.
  • Do not read while traveling.
  • Focus on the horizon.
  • Avoid strong odors.
  • Try not to think about getting sick.
  • Avoid other travelers who may be experiencing motion sickness.
  • Keep children occupied and keep them from talking about feeling sick, especially in front of other children.

If you Feel Nauseated

  • Crackers during the trip will help to reduce nausea.
  • Get as much fresh air as possible.
  • Apply cold packs or ice to the eyes & neck.
  • Breathe deeply.
  • Immerse your feet in ice water.

Prevention for Specific Types of Travel



  • Always sit in the front of a vehicle and look out the front window only. 
  • Do not sit in a rear-facing seat.
  • Ask the driver to go easy on the turns and brakes.
  • Ask the driver to pull over if you need to read a map.
  • Place children in an elevated child seat that provides a good outside view.


  • Sit near the front of the bus to avoid the fumes and the motion in the rear.  This will also allow you to look out the front rather than the sides of the bus.



  • Stay on deck with the fresh air and avoid going below deck while underway.
  • Look towards the horizon and try to get your balance. Try to roll with the boat instead of stiffening up and fighting the motion.
  • Stay out of direct sunlight as much as possible to avoid becoming overheated.
  • Avoid strong odors, like gasoline or diesel fumes.
  • If you feel nauseated, stand up and look out over the horizon. Do not lay down and close your eyes while feeling sea sick.


  • Request a cabin near the center of the ship (center between bow and stern as well as starboard and port).
  • Get out of the cabin and up on deck where visual input agrees with inner ear sensations of motion.
  • If feeling nauseous, avoid the upper decks.  The higher you go, the more you will experience swaying back and forth. 
  • Ship doctors usually stock medications and other products to avoid or treat sea sickness.


  • Eat a mild meal before diving, leaving time to for digestion.

  • Drink plenty of water and bring water with you and drink often.

  • Once the boat anchors and the boat is rolling with the waves, your resistance to motion sickness diminishes rapidly. Make sure you and your partner have your gear prepared so that you can be ready to dive as soon as possible.

  • Once you are in the water, drop down below the surface since the top ten or fifteen feet (3 to 4.5 meters) can still have a surge that will have an effect on you. Dropping below that can have a calming effect on your senses (and your stomach).

  • Have some water and fruit before and between dives to rehydrate.

  • Get away from other divers who are experiencing sea sickness.

  • If you feel you will get sick, avoid the entry and exit areas of the boat. Hang your head over the gunwales and avoid upchucking in areas other divers must use.

  • Be careful not to swallow sea water.  It makes many people nauseous.  Make sure your mouthpiece fits well and that you have your regulator comfortably and securely in your mouth so as to keep water out.



  • Ask for a window seat. The front of the plane may be preferable, as it is usually less noisy.



  • Should you feel ill, close your eyes so you can't see the horizon moving.
  • On constant-G-force rides, try to keep your head still and face the way you are traveling. 
  • Don't tilt your head.  Tilting your head sideways is likely to confuse your balance system which may lead to queasiness.
  • If you do feel nauseated, draw in large amounts of air through your mouth and hold for a second or two, and repeat several times. This will temporarily reduce the immediate urge to throw up, hopefully until you exit the ride.