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Why does one suffer from motion sickness?

Updated: Jan 29, 2021

Have you ever seen a bag like this before in a seat pocket in front of you while flying? Have you ever wondered what it is used for?

This is a bag for litter disposal & also an airsickness bag for people who suffer from motion sickness, a condition in which one in three people are considered highly susceptible to. Find out more about motion sickness below.

Motion Sickness

Motion sickness affects an individual when his or her brain cannot make sense of information sent by their sensory organs like eyes and ears. It is a sensation of wooziness that occurs mainly when one is travelling by car, boat, plane or train and will cause one to feel dizzy or nauseous. Being carsick, seasick or airsick are common forms of motion sickness.

Symptoms of motion sickness

There are different symptoms of motion sickness and the common ones include dizziness, nausea and vomiting. Other symptoms include:

  1. Cold sweats

  2. Fatigue

  3. Headache

  4. Irritability

  5. Inability to concentrate

  6. Pale skin

  7. Rapid breathing or gulping of air

  8. Loss of balance or trouble maintaining balance

Risk factors

Motion sickness is common in older people, pregnant women, and children between the ages of 5 and 12. Although motion sickness can still affect anyone if the motion one is exposed to is intense enough.

The following factors are linked to an increased chance of getting motion sickness

  1. Family history of motion sickness

  2. Hormonal birth control

  3. Inner ear disorders

  4. Menstrual periods

  5. Migraines

  6. Parkinson’s disease

  7. Pregnancy

Causes of motion sickness

The human brain senses motion through different pathways of the nervous system including the inner ear, the eyes, and the tissues of the body surface. When one’s body is moved intentionally, e.g. when one is walking, the input from all of the pathways are coordinated by the brain.

Motion sickness occurs when the central nervous system receives conflicting messages from the sensory systems which includes the inner ear, eyes, skin pressure receptors, and the muscle and joint sensory receptors.

Any form of travelling such as air travel can induce the uneasy feeling of motion sickness.

When one is sat in a plane and not looking out of the window, their inner ears can sense up, down, left, right movement but since their eyes see a static view, it sends a signal that the person is not moving at all. This conflict between inputs is therefore responsible for motion sickness. Sometimes, amusement rides, 3D movies and children’s playground equipment can also induce motion sickness.

Treatment of motion sickness

There are a variety of medications dedicated for the treatment of motion sickness but most only can prevent the onset of symptoms. Also, many types of medication also induce sleepiness, so operating machinery or a vehicle is not allowed while taking these types of medications. Commonly prescribed motion sickness medications include:

  • Scopolamine

  • Dimenhydrinate

  • Cyclizine

These medication should only be consumed on the advice of your family physician. There are also a variety of remedies used to treat motion sickness without the prescription of medication.

  • Looking at the horizon

One common way to reduce the effects of motion sickness is to look out of the window of a moving vehicle and to gaze towards the horizon in the direction of travel. This method helps one re-orient their inner sense of balance by providing a visual reaffirmation of motion.

  • Keeping eyes closed and napping

It is helpful to simply close one’s eyes or if possible, one should take a nap. This can resolve the input conflict between the eyes and the inner ear.

  • Chewing

A simple method for relieving common and mild motion sickness is chewing. Chewing in general reduces the adverse effects of the conflict between vision and balance.

  • Fresh air

Fresh and cool air can slightly reduce the effects of motion sickness for an individual although it is not clear whether it is related to avoiding foul odour, which can worsen nausea.

  • Ginger

Ginger is another remedy that can be used to reduce motion sickness. It is available in tablet form, or a fresh stem of ginger can be chewed to relieve symptoms.

  • Breathing exercises

For individuals who experience motion sickness regularly as part of their profession, cognitive therapy and biofeedback are possible solutions to reduce the effects of motion sickness. Performing breathing exercises by using biofeedback is tested to be effective in helping people who suffer from motion sickness.

Prevention of motion sickness

There are many ways that can help one prevent or reduce the effects of motion sickness which include the following:

  • Plan ahead when booking a trip

If one is travelling by air, they should ask for a window seat to allow them to look out to the horizon and re-orient the inner sense of balance.

  • Driving the vehicle yourself

One should sit at the front of a car or bus or do the driving themselves. Many people who experience motion sickness in a vehicle find that they do not have the symptoms when they’re driving.

  • Avoid alcohol

Alcohol should be avoided as dehydration, headache and anxiety can set in and exacerbate motion sickness.

  • Healthy diet

One should eat well so that his stomach is settled. Greasy, acidic and spicy food should be avoided before one’s travels.

  • Seating position

One should seat facing forward and should not perform activities that will keep their head down such as using mobile devices or reading.

Motion sickness is a common issue that affects about 1 in 3 individuals and it isn’t a condition that can be treated. Preventive methods and treatment methods can only reduce the effects of motion sickness and with these methods, one can experience a more pleasant journey.

Watch a video to learn more about motion sickness

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