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Motion Sickness

About Motion Sickness

Motion sickness, or seasickness, is usually just a minor annoyance and does not signify any serious medical illness. Some travelers are incapacitated by it, and a few even suffer symptoms for a few days after the trip. About one third of the population is highly susceptible to motion sickness. Some experience symptoms in fairly rough conditions, and others become sick only in extreme conditions. Some groups that seem to be particularly more susceptible to motion sickness include: children aged 3 to 12 years, people who suffer from migraine headaches, and women during menstruation and pregnancy.

Early signs of motion sickness include pallor, restlessness, and cold sweat. In later stages, nausea, excessive salivating, and vomiting can occur. The degrees of symptoms that result from an acute exposure to provocative stimuli vary with the intensity of the stimulus and each person’s susceptibility to this condition.

Motion sickness occurs when the sensory inputs (vestibular, visual, and/or proprioception or “body sense”) sends information about the body’s position that contradicts what it is perceived to be experiencing. Sometimes the incoming signals from these sensory sites conflict with each other; other times these signals conflict with the brain’s “positional memory.” It can be brought on by abrupt changes in movement, such as during bumpy rides, turbulent flights, or rough seas. It can also occur when one is exposed to moving visual scenes while the body is in a relatively fixed state. Another new theory for some cases of motion sickness is the postural instability theory. This theory is based on experiments in which motion sickness was preceded by statistically significant increases in postural sway, indicating an underlying vestibular abnormality and a decreased ability to actively control the body’s postural motion.

Treatments for Motion Sickness

Prevention in most cases is accomplished by seeking areas of lesser movement in an interior location of a large ship or by facing forward and looking outside a ship or plane at a stable horizontal line. Several medications are available, by prescription or over the counter, such as Valium, Antivert, and Dramamine that prevent or limit the symptoms of motion sickness. If medications are necessary, they are best taken at least one hour before embarking. For longer trips, a prescription medication, called Transderm-Scop, can be worn behind the ear, for up to three days at a time.

Additional Information

In some cases, motion sickness may have other underlying causes associated with vestibular dysfunction. These causes may be linked to Meniere’s disease, chronic imbalance, chronic ear infections, benign paroxysmal positional vertigo and others. Please always consult your physician about your symptoms; early intervention is the best way to prevent progression, if an underlying problem does exist.