• Consumer Health: What is motion sickness?

two children in a car with beach toys and vacation items packed in the back

It's summertime, and for many people that means travel. For some people, it also means an unpleasant result of that travel: motion sickness.

Motion sickness occurs when the brain receives conflicting information from the inner ears, eyes, and nerves in the joints and muscles.

Any type of transportation can cause motion sickness. It can strike suddenly, progressing from a feeling of uneasiness to a cold sweat, dizziness and vomiting. It usually quiets down as soon as the motion stops. The more you travel, the more easily you'll adjust to being in motion.

Motion sickness is more common in children 2 to 12 years old, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And some medicines used to treat the disorder are not recommended for children. And while some motion sickness medicines can cause drowsiness in adults, it can have the opposite effect for some children, causing them to be very active.


You might avoid motion sickness by planning ahead. When traveling, avoid sitting in the rear of the vehicle or in seats that face backward.

Pick seats where you'll feel motion least:

  • By ship
    Request a cabin in the front or middle of the ship near the water level.
  • By plane
    Ask for a seat over the front edge of a wing. Once aboard, direct the air vent flow to your face.
  • By train
    Take a forward-facing seat near the front and next to a window.
  • By automobile
    Drive or sit in the front passenger's seat. Children should be in age-appropriate seats and restraints.

If you're susceptible to motion sickness:

  • Focus on the horizon or on a distant, stationary object. Don't read or use electronic devices while traveling.
  • Keep your head still and resting against a seat back.
  • Don't smoke and don't sit near smokers.
  • Avoid strong odors, spicy and greasy foods, and alcohol.
  • Take an antihistamine, which you can buy without a prescription. These include dimenhydrinate (Dramamine, Driminate, others) and meclizine (Dramamine Less Drowsy, Travel-Ease, others). Dimenhydrinate is safe for children older than age 2. Take these medicines at least 30–60 minutes before you travel. Expect drowsiness as a side effect.
  • Consider scopolamine, available in a prescription adhesive patch called Transderm Scop. Several hours before you plan to travel, apply the patch behind your ear for 72-hour protection. Talk to your healthcare professional before using the medicine if you have health problems such as glaucoma or urine retention.
  • Try ginger. A ginger supplement combined with ginger snaps, ginger ale or candied ginger might help curb nausea.
  • Eat lightly. Some people find that nibbling on plain crackers and sipping cold water or a carbonated drink without caffeine help.

With some advance planning and these tips in hand, your summertime travel can be enjoyable for all concerned.

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