Motion sickness, as many travelers know all too well, can strike on ships, trains, planes or in a car - whenever the balance center in the inner ear senses motion that the eyes do not.

Sergio Ruzzier, Nyt - Nyt

The taming of the stomach

  • New York Times
  • December 22, 2012 - 1:56 PM


Motion sickness, as many travelers know all too well, can strike on ships, trains, planes or in a car -- whenever the balance center in the inner ear senses motion that the eyes do not. Those mixed signals, which are sent to the brain, can literally be sickening.

The most common advice for avoiding carsickness and seasickness is to look at the horizon, as that reference point makes it clear you're moving. On a ship, it may be a good idea to stay out on deck where you can keep your eyes on the horizon. In a car, it helps to drive or sit in the front seat since you can see farther ahead. On a plane, try to book a seat near the wings where it is more stable. The youngest among us are thought to be the most susceptible to motion sickness, though it's not known why. Kids pose a special challenge for parents, since they are doomed to the back seat.

The best way to avoid motion sickness is, obviously, to avoid travel, which is next to impossible during the holidays. But planning can help make it more bearable. Below are suggestions from experts on how to combat motion sickness, especially in cars, and with special attention to children.


These days, children are often pacified with their 67th viewing of "Toy Story 3." But the jury is out as to whether movie watching en route will only make them more squeamish. Anne Mounsey, an associate professor of family medicine at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, tells parents any screen activity requires "trial and error."

Children, or passengers of any age, who are only mildly sickened en route might do fine watching a fixed screen like a DVD player in a minivan. But a tablet that must be held steady? Not a great idea. Similarly, a handheld game console provides too much visual stimulation at close range. Children or adults can listen to an iPod instead, with their heads on the headrests for stability, eyes closed to limit stimuli.

And in this age of nonstop engagement with personal technology, a recommendation from Dr. Abinash Virk, director of the travel and tropical medicine clinic at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, is refreshing. "Spacing out is great," Virk said. "Your brain is having to deal with input from ears and eyes. The more you try to do, the more likely you'll get nauseated."


Several drugs can be useful. A prescription-only scopolamine patch -- worn behind an ear -- reduces nausea associated with motion sickness, studies have shown. But its side effects include dry mouth and blurred vision. That said, the patch lasts three days, making it convenient for the seasick-prone on a Caribbean cruise. However, those under age 18 should not use a scopolamine patch as it can cause "terrible toxicity," said Dr. Sydney Spiesel, a clinical professor of pediatrics at Yale University School of Medicine. It should also not be used by anyone who has or has had glaucoma.

Over-the-counter options include Dramamine, which has recently introduced chewable tablets in grape flavor, and can be used by ages 2 and older. It treats nausea and vomiting, and also may cause drowsiness.

Bonine, which can be used by those 12 and older, is an antihistamine that can also tackle nausea and other symptoms of motion-related illness. Mounsey, who was an author of a recent review of research, said that antihistamines like Zyrtec and Allegra won't alleviate motion sickness.

Most drugs work best if ingested an hour before travel, though a scopolamine patch must be worn at least four hours in advance. But that time frame might change in the future. In October, NASA and a California company signed an agreement to commercialize a nasal spray to fight motion sickness.


Ginger has been shown to prevent nausea associated with motion sickness, so pack powdered-ginger capsules, crystallized ginger or even ginger Altoids. Some motion-sickness sufferers wear acupressure bands, which have a plastic stud that has to be positioned correctly on the inner wrist, to help keep nausea at bay. But evidence proving their efficacy is mixed.


Sometimes, no amount of strategizing can prevent the inevitable. "Different kids have different degrees of sensitivity to motion sickness," Spiesel said. "If you have a kid who is really sensitive, you want to be careful what you feed them, and match the upholstery of the car. Sometimes nothing you do helps."

Or there's the Hurl-e, also known as the CarSik bib, which is a hands-free bag for those who may succumb to vomiting. The bags ($10.74 for a six-pack) have a strap so they can be worn like a bib, and make cleanup a cinch.

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