What Really Causes Motion Sickness?

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2013
Jul 10

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Motion sickness is a relatively common problem, with about 30% of the population of the United States experiencing some degree or another of motion sickness. Seasickness, airsickness and carsickness are all variations on motion sickness, and while you might experience only one or two of these the cause is actually the same.

There are specific physiological reasons that can cause you to experience nausea or even vomiting when you’re traveling in a vehicle, whether by land, sea or air.

Understanding what motion sickness is

At the root of motion sickness is dissonance. It’s the dissonance caused when there is a difference between what your eyes see visually and what your vestibular system experiences. (The vestibular system is that portion of your body that understands spatial orientation, balance, movement and related issues.)

Really, then, motion sickness is about an imbalance between what you perceive visually and what your body feels in regard to movement.

Your brain and motion sickness

There’s a portion of your brain known as the “area postrema” that tries to handle things when this imbalance occurs. (It serves a number of other functions, too, such as helping you to vomit when you’ve been poisoned.) Part of its main job in regard to motion sickness is to resolve conflicts between what you see and what you feel in your vestibular system.

For example, if you feel motion in your body, your inner ear will send a signal to the area postrema that lets it know you’re moving. If your eye doesn’t see it, and thinks that everything is standing still, the area postrema assumes that one of your senses is, essentially, hallucinating. Your brain assumes you’ve ingested a toxin of some sort, and tries to induce vomiting to clear that toxin.

Solutions

There are a number of potential remedies for motion sickness, from sea bands to ginger products to herbal remedies and more. If you suffer regularly from motion sickness, look into some of these options. Not only will you avoid some of the side effects of anti-nausea medication, some people say these remedies are even more effective.

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