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How to Help Prevent Motion Sickness

Published on Mar 04, 2019

Riding in a car, flying in a plane, or spending time on boat can often be a necessity and sometimes a fun experience. But for the 1 in every 3 people at high risk for motion sickness, they can be something to dread. The good news is, there are things you can do to help prevent or manage its symptoms. Read on to learn more about motion sickness and what you can do about it.

What is motion sickness?

Motion sickness is a sick feeling that can be triggered by real or perceived movement. It can be caused by the movement associated with cars, boats, trains, planes, and amusement park rides. Even skiing and virtual reality can trigger motion sickness. It happens when your brain receives mixed messages about motion from the inner ears, eyes, extremities, muscles, and joints compared with your body’s position in space. For example, if you read a book while riding in a car, your eyes focus on something that is not moving, but your inner ear and joints sense motion. The brain receives conflicting messages and you may then feel the effects of motion sickness.

What are the symptoms of motion sickness?

Symptoms of motion sickness include:

  • Nausea.
  • Vomiting.
  • Pale skin.
  • Headache.
  • Cold sweats.
  • Dizziness.
  • Irritability.

These symptoms can appear without warning and can get worse quickly. They usually stop when the movement stops.

Who gets motion sickness?

While 1 in every 3 people are considered high risk for motion sickness, the fact is almost anyone can experience it if the motion is strong enough. Although it’s not clear why, people in certain groups are more likely to experience motion sickness than others. These include:

  • Children between the ages of 2 and 12 years.
  • Women, especially those who are pregnant, menstruating, or taking hormones.
  • Asians.
  • People who get migraines.
  • People taking certain prescription medications.
  • People with a family history of motion sickness.

How can I manage motion sickness?

Talk with your healthcare provider to confirm that your motion sickness is not related to another medical condition. And keep in mind that there are a number of things you can try that may help prevent or manage motion sickness. It’s important to work with your healthcare provider to find what may work best for you.

Here are some tips that may help you prevent motion sickness:

  • Know what your motion sickness triggers are and avoid those situations if possible.
  • Focus your eyes on the horizon or close them.
  • Plan your seat position. For example, you may be able to avoid getting motion sickness by driving a car rather than being a passenger; sitting over the wings on an airplane; or choosing a window seat on an airplane or train.
  • Avoid certain activities while travelling. For example, don’t read in a moving car, boat, or airplane.
  • Hold your head still against the back of the seat or headrest.
  • Stay hydrated. Drink plenty of water and avoid alcohol and caffeine.
  • Avoid heavy, greasy, and acidic foods before traveling, but don’t skip meals. Eat well so that your stomach is settled.
  • Get plenty of rest. Being overtired can increase your risk for motion sickness.
  • Don’t smoke, especially in the hours before travelling.
  • Get plenty of air. If possible, direct vents toward you on a plane or open the car windows.
  • Distract yourself. Try listening to music, doing breathing exercises, using aromatherapy scents such as mint or lavender, or taking flavored lozenges or ginger candy.
  • While scientific proof that they work is lacking, you may want to talk to your healthcare provider about trying alternative therapies such as acupressure or magnets.

Be sure to talk with your healthcare provider if you have any questions about motion sickness.

Caroline Pak, PharmD, is a pharmacist and the Medical Editor-in-Chief for Get Healthy Stay Healthy at Pfizer.

[1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] [8]


  • 1. National Institutes of Health. Genetics Home Reference. Motion Sickness. Accessed February 6, 2019.
  • 2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Chapter 2: Motion Sickness. Accessed February 19, 2019.
  • 3. Familydoctor.org. Motion Sickness. Accessed February 6, 2019.
  • 4. MedlinePlus. Motion Sickness Accessed February 6, 2019.
  • 5. Healthychildren.org. Car Sickness. Accessed February 6, 2019.
  • 6. Golding JF. Chapter 27: Motion sickness. In: Furman JM, Lempert T, eds. Handbook of Clinical Neurology. 2016;137:371-390.
  • 7. Cleveland Clinic. Motion Sickness Accessed February 6, 2019.
  • 8. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Motion Sickness Accessed February 22, 2019.
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