What You Need to Know about Motion Sickness

Motion sickness happens when the body, the inner ear, and the eyes send conflicting signals to the brain. This most often happens when you are in a car, boat, or airplane, but it may also happen on flight simulators or amusement park rides. From inside a ship’s cabin, your inner ear may sense rolling motions that your eyes cannot see.

On the other hand, your eyes may see movement on a “virtual reality” ride that your body does not feel. Once a person gets used to the movement and the motion stops, symptoms may come back (although usually only briefly). Sometimes just thinking about movement can cause anxiety and symptoms of motion sickness. For example, a person who had motion sickness before might become nauseous on an airplane before take-off.

Risk Factors:

The following are the most common risk factors for motion sickness:

  • Riding in a car, boat, airplane, or space shuttle
  • Young age — children ages 2 – 12 are most likely to get motion sickness.
  • Being prone to nausea or vomiting
  • Higher level of fear or anxiety
  • Poor ventilation in the vehicle
  • Sitting in the back seat or where you cannot see out the window


Most people who have had motion sickness in the past ask their doctor how to prevent it next time. Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and find out what usually causes the problem, such as riding in a boat, flying in a plane, or driving in car. Your doctor doesn’ t usually need laboratory tests to make a diagnosis.

Preventive Care:

There are several ways you can try to prevent motion sickness:

  • Sit in the front seat in a car.
  • Keep your eyes on the horizon. Don’t read.
  • Rest your head against the seat back, to keep it still.
  • Turn the air vents toward your face.
  • Don’t smoke.

If you have motion sickness on a plane, try these tips:

  • Avoid big, greasy meals and alcohol the night before air travel.
  • Eat light meals or snacks that are low in calories in the 24 hours before air travel.
  • Avoid salty foods and dairy products before air travel.
  • Sit toward the front of the aircraft or in a seat over the wing.
  • Turn the air vent flow toward your face.

If you have motion sickness on a boat, try these tips:

  • Ask for a cabin on the upper deck or toward the front of the ship.
  • When on deck, keep your eyes fixed on the horizon or land.