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What You Should Know About Motion Sickness

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Don’t let motion sickness ruin your summer travel plans. Balance and dizziness specialist Dr. Adrian Priesol offers some tips to help you combat this common condition.

Summer vacation is in full swing, and for the next few months, road trips, vacations, boat rides and cruises will be the new normal. While this might sound refreshing to some, motion sickness sufferers may cringe at the thought of travel.

Motion sickness is very common. It is your body’s natural response to a misalignment of information from what you see and from what your balance organs in your inner ear sense. Motion sickness often causes dizziness, nausea, vomiting, sweating and a pale appearance, among other symptoms.

“When someone is feeling ill due to motion, it is caused by a mismatch in their sensory cues,” said Adrian Priesol, M.D., who specializes in dizziness and balance disorders at Mass. Eye and Ear. “This is why people often feel sick if they’re reading in the back seat of a car. Their balance organs are sensing that they’re in motion, but their vision says they’re completely still.”

Preventing Motion Sickness

Taking preventative approaches is the best way to manage symptoms of motion sickness. Something as simple as modifying your environment (i.e. sitting in the front of the car instead of the back) may help you avoid those uncomfortable feelings.

For times when such changes aren’t so easy, there are medications that can help. Acupressure bands can create pressure points to help you feel steadier, and many folks also have success with antihistamines or patches (scopolamine) on longer trips. Some even find that ginger (from eating ginger candies or drinking ginger ale) also helps.

No matter what, Dr. Priesol recommends starting treatments before motion.

“You don’t want to wait until you develop full-blown motion sickness to start treatment,” he said. “You should begin at least four hours before the anticipated motion sickness sets in to make your treatment as effective as possible.”

Motion Sickness Varies from Person to Person

Unfortunately, there is no rhyme or reason when it comes to motion sensitivities. Some people may be fine in a car but not on a boat, while others are fine on a boat but not in a car.

Dr. Priesol says that you should take an individual approach to managing and treating your symptoms, as everyone’s bodies respond to motion differently. You also should not be discouraged if your experience is different than someone else’s.

While it is not easy to predict who will suffer from motion sickness, there are some groups who seem to be more susceptible: migraine suffers, women, pregnant women and those with inner ear conditions. Motion sickness can also run in families.

The Anticipation of Motion Sickness Might Cause It

According to Dr. Priesol, motion sickness is considered a physiological form of dizziness, because it is not indicative of a disease process. This does not mean that the symptoms you experience aren’t real, but certain mental states can bring on symptoms.

“Someone who worries about becoming sick from motion may actually increase their likelihood of having symptoms,” he said. “In addition, anxiety often causes unconscious over-breathing and mild dizziness, which both correspond with feelings of motion sickness.”

Focusing on prevention and reducing anxiety may help you to avoid symptoms.

Sudden Motion Sickness Should Not Be Ignored

If you have had life-long problems with motion sickness, this is not a medical emergency and regular check-ins with your primary care physician can help you properly manage it.

If you or a loved one has suddenly started having problems with motion sickness, it is recommended that you or they are seen by a specialist.

“In these cases, it is likely that something has happened,” Dr. Priesol said. “Whether you have developed migraines or have some sort of inner ear problem, something is exacerbating your susceptibility to motion sickness and that should be investigated.”

Motion sickness is not fun for anyone, and it doesn’t need to ruin your summer plans. Working with your doctor to find the right preventative measures can help you enjoy those summer trips with your families and friends. But remember, if you are experiencing motion sickness for the first time, you should consider seeing a specialist.

About Our Expert

Adrian Priesol, M.D., specializes in balance and dizziness at Mass. Eye and Ear. He sees patients at our main campus and at our Longwood location.

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