Motion sickness is a disorder where one’s brain confuses visual and sensory stimuli, resulting in feelings of nausea and imbalance.
Acceleration and deceleration while traveling by car, train, sea, air, or by other means cause the inner ear (vestibular system) to sense motion, but the eyes inform the brain that things are stationary.
The resulting discordance causes one’s brain to conclude that one of the senses is hallucinating and that this hallucination is a result of ingesting poison. In response, the brain responds by inducing vomiting, to clear the supposed toxin.
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Motion sickness can affect any individual at any age. From a Western Medicine standpoint, there is no general trend as to why certain people are more affected by motion sickness than others. Some factors that can play a role in inducing motion sickness include genetics, anxiety, poor ventilation, and immediate movement after eating or drinking too much.
Doctors can treat the symptoms of motion sickness with over-the-counter or prescription medication, but they cannot actually cure the condition. According to Dr. Hamid Djalilian, director of Neurotology at the University of California Irvine, “Medication will blunt the effects but there’s no way to get rid of it.”
If managed effectively with proper treatment, remedies, and nutrition, the symptoms associated with motion sickness can be prevented, subdued, or at the very least, addressed when they arise. When individuals travel for more than two hours, proactive measures should be considered.
How Does Motion Sickness Feel?
Common initial symptoms associated with motion sickness are nausea, headache, and general uneasiness. Symptoms may progress in severity and include vomiting, dizziness, fatigue, excessive yawning, inability to concentrate, excessive sweating and salivation, pallor (when one turns white), and severe distress.
How Motion Sickness Is Conventionally Treated
Conventional treatments include over-the-counter or prescription medication, and holistic remedies include dietary and herbal treatments. Common over-the-counter products used to treat and prevent symptoms associated with motion sickness include antihistamines like dimenhydrinate (Dramamine), and meclizine (Antivert and Bonine, for example). While the main side effect of these products is drowsiness, meclizine is much less sedating, making it a preferred medication. Nonsedating antihistamines like fexofenadine (Allegra) are not typically helpful in combatting motion sickness.
As for prescription medications, promethazine (Promethegan), scopolamine oral pills, and scopolamine skin patches (Transderm Scop) are potential options. The patch is placed on the skin area behind the ears, and each patch can assist in preventing motion sickness for up to three days. The main side effect for scopolamine is an irritating dry mouth side effect. Keep in mind that patients with glaucoma and other health issues should avoid using this drug, and that dimenhydrinate is a potential treatment for young children. Be sure to consult your physician prior to beginning any medication.
Holistic Healing for Motion Sickness
Various holistic healing modalities can help improve the symptoms of motion sickness and treat the actual condition. Although they come from different traditions, these healing practices share some common tenets, like that of the body being a self-healing system. With a focus on natural medicine and touch, these therapies aim to restore health and balance in the body and mind.
As a part of Traditional Chinese Medicine, acupuncture supports the idea that our bodies, out of balance due to years of stress and unhealthy lifestyle choices, can be brought back to equilibrium through the practice of needling points on energy channels (located throughout the body) called meridians. Acupressure, or shiatsu, works with the same system of meridians and points but does not use needles. A shiatsu practitioner uses his or her fingers to hold down acupressure points on the body, therefore rebalancing one’s chi, or life force, to promote health.
Sufferers of motion sickness can also self-apply acupressure to key areas of the body.
- P6 – Nei Guan – Inner Pass (Pericardium Meridian)
Location: On the palmar side of the forearm, about two finger-breadths above (away from the hand) the wrist crease.
Purpose: Treats stomach pain, nausea, and vomiting. Restores clarity to the brain and suppresses pain.
- SJ 5 – Wai Guan – Outer Pass (San Jiao Meridian)
Location: On the forearm, about two finger-breadths above the wrist crease.
Purpose: Treats fever and headaches in infections of the upper respiratory tract, decongests, clears heat, and sharpens eyesight and hearing. *The previous point, P6, is often balanced with SJ 5.
- SJ 17 – Yi Feng – Wind Screen (San Jiao Meridian)
Location: Behind the ear, in the depression between the mastoid process and the lower jaw.
Purpose: Sharpens hearing and corrects feelings of imbalance. This treats diseases of the ear. Nausea due to inner ear or motion sickness can also benefit from SJ17.
- DM16 – Feng Fu – Palace of Wind (Du Mai Meridian)
Location: On the back of the neck, one finger breadth above the midpoint of the posterior hairline.
Purpose: Brings clarity to the brain, opens the senses, releases cramps, and treats severe neck headaches. DM16 is also a point that can treat dizziness and nausea associated with many imbalances.
Aromatherapy uses the medicinal properties of essential oils drawn from plants and herbs to treat a variety of conditions ranging from skin disorders and infections to stress and immune deficiencies. Each essential oil emits a biofrequency that is sensed by the body. Imbalances in the body and symptoms associated with motion sickness can be “tuned” as the body responds to the oils with respect to its own biofrequency.Because of this specificity, each individual responds differently to an essential oil. Therapy is best when customized by testing essential oils and gauging the body’s response, however, some key essential oils universally assist in relieving motion sickness including peppermint oil, ginger oil, lavender oil and spearmint oil.
Peppermint, Spearmint, Lavender, Ginger Oils
- At the onset of nausea or motion sickness, open a bottle of one of these essential oils and inhale the odor.
- Or, using a combination of these essential oils, one may create their own mixture to inhale. According to a recent study, “Apart from the obvious benefits of utilizing each [essential oil’s] contribution to relieving nausea, the complex aroma produced will help prevent the unwanted side effect of conditioned aversion [to an individual essential oil].”
- Sucking on peppermints helps soothe stomach lining, relax stomach muscles, and ease cramping.
Reflexology, developed from an earlier European system called zone therapy, holds that the hands and feet have reflex areas that correspond to every part of the body, including organs and glands. These parts are affected by stimulating relevant reflex areas. Mainly, reflexology is used to create deep relaxation and to relieve stress and tension. The blood supply is improved by reflexology, and it promotes the unblocking of nerve impulses to harmonize and balance the body.
Because motion sickness is caused by imbalance of one’s inner ear, one can alleviate motion sickness by focusing on reflexology points of the ear. The main reflex centers related to the ears are on the base of the fourth and fifth fingers on the palm and sole of one’s hands and feet.
Pressure can be applied with the hands, or with a rubber or wooden instrument.
Holistic Lifestyle Changes
Those who are susceptible can prevent motion sickness by putting themselves in a position where there is minimal motion. They should try to be in an area that is well ventilated and they should focus on a single point on the horizon. For short periods of travel, avoid drinking and eating, and move around as little as possible.
Travel Tips for Motion Sickness
If you have a history of motion sickness or might be susceptible to it, consider the following pieces of advice:
- In a vehicle: Sit as close to the front of the vehicle as you can. If you are a passenger, pay attention to the scenery outside and in the distance. Sometimes, driving the vehicle (instead of just being a passenger) can help a lot.
- On a train: Face forward and sit close to a window.
- In an airplane: Request a window seat. Look out the window. The most preferable spot, where the degree of motion is lowest, is in a seat over the front edge of the wing. Open and direct the air vent to blow cool air onto your face.
- On a ship: Choose a cabin in the middle of the ship, near the waterline. When on board the ship, go outside on deck and focus on the horizon.
- Avoid heavy or acidic foods
- Avoid smoking and avoid other people who smoke, do not drink excessive amounts of alcohol, and avoiding reading while on a vehicle.
- Hydrate by drinking plenty of water and fluids
- Get plenty of rest
- Place your hand on the inside of the door or window and look at a point off in the distance while in a moving vehicle
- Listen to music with headphones
Holistic Diet & Nutrition
There are several herbal and holistic remedies that can provide relief and comfort. These remedies focus on supplementing people with the nutrients they need in order to treat deficiencies and imbalances. Many holistic diet and nutrition products can be found at local health food stores and supermarkets.
Ginger is often recommended for preventing seasickness (Schmid et al. 1994), and is found to be better than dimenhydrinate (Dramamine) or placebo at combatting symptoms of motion sickness (Mowrey and Clayson 1982). With the benefit of not causing drowsiness like other motion sickness medications, ginger helps to alleviate symptoms of nausea.
- Pack some ginger snacks to bring with you: gingersnap cookies, ginger candy, and ginger ale all help to quell mild motion sickness. If you can’t locate any ginger ale that actually contains ginger, you can make homemade ginger ale with ginger syrup and seltzer water.
- Make fresh ginger juice or a fresh infusion of ginger tea. Ginger tea can be made by putting one teaspoon of ground culinary ginger into a cup of boiling water, letting it steep for 5-10 minutes, and drinking as often as needed.
Nausea comes from different sources, and its possible that if you have significant amounts of nausea you may have a deficiency of Vitamin B6. Taking small doses (50 mg) of Vitamin B6 may treat feelings of nausea.
Furthermore, taking magnesium (100 mg) can help treat migraines associated with motion sickness, as magnesium prevents the muscle contractions that cause migraines.
Products & Equipment
Acupressure Travel Wristbands
Travel wristbands (a.k.a. Sea bands) are bands that one wears around their wrists while traveling. They are made from cloth and they possess a plastic, circular button which is meant to be positioned over acupressure point L6 (or the Nei Guan point). By putting pressure on the point, travel wristbands can relieve motion sickness and nausea.
Aromatherapy nasal inhalers
The all-natural formulas in aromatherapy nasal inhalers come in two forms: ready-to-use or empty of oils. You can put your own essential oils into them to inhale, or you can purchase a ready-made complex formula of oils that combats motion sickness, like peppermint oil, spearmint oil, ginger oil, or lavender oil. Several companies offer aromatherapy nasal inhalers as the pure essential oils quickly combat dizziness and nausea that accompany motion sickness. These inhalers are natural, effective, and portable.
- Peppermint oil
- Spearmint oil
- Lavender oil
- Ginger oil
See “Aromatherapy” in Holistic Healing for Motion Sickness above.
These three herbs provide soothing relief to stomach cramps and nausea. Keep these teas handy when traveling in order to combat motion sickness.
- Ginger Tea
Tools for the Feet, Hand, Head, and Body stimulate the internal organs of the body, helps blood circulation, relieve tension of the nervous system.
Updated: April 2014
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- The natural choice for nausea relief. (n.d.). Why Seaband. Retrieved March 15, 2014, from www.sea-band.com/why-seaband/
- What You Need to Know About Seasickness or Motion Sickness. (n.d.). Cleveland Clinic. Retrieved March 10, 2014, from my.clevelandclinic.org/healthy_living/travelers_health/hic_what_you_need_to_know_about_seasickness-or-motion-sickness.aspx