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Travel sickness

This factsheet is for people who get travel sickness, or who would like information about it.

Travel or motion sickness is a condition some people get when travelling where they feel sick, vomit or feel dizzy. It can happen during any form of transport but common examples include car or sea travel. Travel sickness can be reduced or even prevented by taking certain medicines before travelling.

Read below for more information about travel sickness.

Published by Bupa's Health Information Team, March 2010.

About travel sickness

About travel sickness

About travel and motion sickness


Travel sickness isn't only restricted to car and sea travel, you can also get it on train journeys and air travel as well as on fairground rides and swings.

Travel sickness is most common in children. However, many children become less susceptible as they get older.

Symptoms


If you have travel sickness you may have several symptoms, including:

  • feeling sick
  • vomiting
  • dizziness
  • a headache
  • sweating
  • looking pale
  • rapid breathing
  • drowsiness
Symptoms get better when the motion stops. They also tend to get better or go away completely on long trips, such as on a ship, as you're likely to adapt to the motion and gradually recover.

If you find you get severe or frequent travel sickness, see a doctor.

Causes


Although travel sickness isn't fully understood, research suggests that it's caused by movements when travelling, such as tilting and shaking, which can confuse your brain.

Normally, your vestibular system, which is located in your inner ear, keeps track of your body, head and eye movements. This helps you to change position and control your balance. However, during travel, the motion your vestibular system senses doesn't match what you see. This conflict between the senses is thought to cause travel sickness. Anyone can get travel sickness and no one knows why some people are more sensitive than others.

Treatment and prevention

Treatment and prevention

Treatment


Your doctor may prescribe you medicines that help prevent travel sickness. You may also be able to buy non-prescription medicines from a pharmacy (chemist or drugstore).

Medicines


Some examples of medicines that are used to treat travel sickness are listed below. Ideally you should take these before you travel. Always read the patient information that comes with your medicine and if you have any questions, ask a pharmacist or doctor for advice.
Hyoscine

Hyoscine hydrobromide is one of the best medicines for preventing travel sickness. It works by blocking the confusing nerve signals from your vestibular system. You need to take tablets containing hyoscine about 30 minutes before you travel and their effect lasts for about six hours.

You may also be able to use a skin patch containing hyoscine. You stick the patch onto your skin behind your ear five or six hours before travelling. It can prevent travel sickness for up to three days. The patches are only suitable for adults and children over 10. Hyoscine may cause side-effects such as drowsiness, blurry vision and dizziness.
Antihistamines

Antihistamines (eg cinnarizine and cyclizine) can help reduce travel sickness. You need to take antihistamines about two hours before you travel. Rarely, these can cause drowsiness.

Availability and use of different treatments may vary from country to country. Ask your doctor for advice on your treatment options.
 

Complementary therapy

Acupressure

Some people find that wearing bands that apply pressure onto your wrist - at an acupuncture point called P6 - can help with travel sickness. There is some evidence that acupressure may help pregnant women with morning sickness, but there hasn't been much research about its effect on travel sickness.
Ginger

Ginger is a traditional remedy for travel sickness. There is some evidence that ginger may be effective for pregnant women with morning sickness and it may also help patients feel less sick following surgery. But there have been few studies on its effect on travel sickness. You can take ginger in many ways, such as in tea or as capsules containing ginger powder.

Preventing travel sickness


As well as the methods listed above, there are several things you can do to help prevent travel sickness when you're travelling.

  • Your position can affect your chances of getting travel sickness - wherever possible, drive a car instead of being a passenger, sit in the front seat of a car or bus, sit over the wing in an aircraft, or sit in the centre of a ship or on the upper deck.
  • Keep your eyes fixed on the horizon.
  • Keep your head still.
  • Don't read - try listening to story tapes instead.
  • Open a window to let fresh air in.
  • Don't smoke before or while travelling.
  • Don't drink alcohol before or while travelling.
  • Try to distract yourself - play travel games or listen to music.
Some people find that lying down helps but this isn't always possible if you are travelling by car or plane. Others find that the best way to deal with travel sickness is to close their eyes and go to sleep.

Further resources

Further resources

  • Spinks A, Wasiak J, Bernath V, et al. Scopolamine (hyoscine) for preventing and treating motion sickness. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, 2007.
  • CDC 2010: Health information for international travel - the yellow book. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. www.cdc.gov, accessed 29 December 2009
  • Fong K. The limits of medicine. BMJ 2004; 329(7480):1441-44
  • Travel sickness. GP Notebook. www.gpnotebook.co.uk, accessed 29 December 2009
  • Motion sickness. Fit for Travel. www.fitfortravel.scot.nhs.uk, accessed 29 December 2009
  • Joint Formulary Committee British National Formulary. 58th ed. London: British Medical Association and Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain, September 2009
  • Antenatal care: Routine care for the healthy pregnant woman. National Collaborating Centre for Women's and Children's Health, March 2008. NICE, www.nice.org.uk
  • 2009 Annual evidence update on antenatal and pregnancy care - nausea and vomiting in early pregnancy. NHS Evidence. www.library.nhs.uk, accessed 29 December 2009
  • Mccracken G, Houston P, Lefebvre G. Guideline for the management of postoperative nausea and vomiting. Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada, 2008, 209. www.sogc.org
  • Chaiyakunapruk N, Kitikannakorn N, Nathisuwan S, et al. The efficacy of ginger for the prevention of postoperative nausea and vomiting: a meta-analysis. Am J Obstet Gynecol 2006; 194(1):95-99

This information was published by Bupa's Health Information Team and is based on reputable sources of medical evidence. It has been peer reviewed by Bupa doctors. This content was compiled by Bupa based on clinical information and practice current as at the stated date of publication. Content is likely to reflect clinical practice in a particular geographical region (as indicated by the sources cited) – accordingly, it may not reflect clinical practice in the reader’s country of habitation. This content is intended for general information only and does not replace the need for personal advice from a qualified health professional. Photos and videos are only for illustrative purposes and do not reflect every presentation of a condition.

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