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Motion Sickness

Motor Sickness, Car Sick, Sea Sickness

What is Motion sickness?

Motion sickness is physical discomfort felt by some people on a moving boat, train, airplane, or automobile. Some people even experience symptoms when riding in an elevator or on a swing. The discomfort is caused by a conflict in the inner ear (the vestibular system), which experiences acceleration forces that are not confirmed by visual references. It is common in closed areas such as a ship or airplane cabin.

How is it diagnosed?

History: There may be mild symptoms of nausea, dizziness, and headache as well as pallor and cold perspiration. In more severe cases, there may be vomiting and sometimes prostration. Individuals often relate a previous experience of motion sickness. With previous history of motion sickness, individuals can have anticipatory anxiety, nausea and vomiting before air travel. Questions about any recent head trauma or ear problems can rule out disorders that are more serious.

Physical exam: Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, headache, and dizziness. Individuals usually experience no symptoms with movement in a horizontal direction, which is the normal course of movement. Vertical movements in a variety of directions account for motion sickness. These vertical movements (as in air turbulence in flight) stimulate the semicircular canals of the inner ear in an unaccustomed manner and account for the sensations of nausea, dizziness, and vomiting.

Tests: CT scan or MRI of the skull will rule out tumor or malignancy. Individuals should also be evaluated for more serious inner ear disturbances and neurological disorders. There are no specific tests for motor sickness.

How is it treated?

In most cases, motion sickness completely resolves once the journey is over, leaving no ill effects. Certain antihistamines have been proven highly effective in treating symptoms like seasickness. They may be used alone or in combination with mild sedatives. Those who suffer from motion sickness should consult their physician before they embark on an extended journey. Being rested and in good health before the journey helps prevent motion sickness. A strong cup of coffee taken just before departure may also be helpful. Alcoholic beverages in moderation make some people less nervous and may help ward off motion sickness. However, in excess, they can worsen this condition.


Phenergan (Promethazine)


To minimize symptoms during travel, rest in a reclining position and fix your gaze on a distant object.

What might complicate it?

Factors that aggravate the condition include tobacco smoke and unpleasant odors, over-consumption of alcohol, overeating and rich foods, stuffy rooms, and reading during travel.

Predicted outcome

Condition is treatable, usually with favorable results.


Other possibilities include chronic inner ear disease, tumors, and anxiety.

Appropriate specialists


Last updated 4 April 2018