Sick of motion

Does travelling by road make you a little queasy or even dizzy? If yes, here are some tips on how to prevent car sickness.
     Print Edition: March 2014
Sick of motion

Motion sickness is a surprisingly common condition. Medically, it's defined as nausea from any type of motion or travel. Most people suffer during long trips on the road. It could result in mild or painful headaches, a feeling of dizziness or fatigue, and, as the name suggests, feeling sick to your stomach.

Motion sickness is the result of your body sensing a discrepancy between what you see (when travelling, the inside of a vehicle and that you're sitting still) and what you feel (your body's vestibular system, which senses balance from your inner ear, tells your brain that you're moving).

While it is impossible to prevent it at all times, the following tips can help you lower the severity of motion sickness and, maybe, even enjoy the drive.

Fresh air can help in most cases. Poorly ventilated cars with certain odours trapped inside (such as air fresheners, heavy perfumes, smoke or the smell from packed food) often make it worse. Leave the window open whenever possible. It would be great if you could remove the source of the offending odour. You could also try using a soothing odour such as lavender or mint to help you cope. If it's not possible to leave the window open, lean towards the bottom part of the window and breathe. There are usually leaks that let in fresh air.

The smell of spicy or greasy foods is a known trigger of motion sickness. So is any heavy odour that might stay with you for some time. You coud carry ginger or ginger tablets with you. Ginger is known to help in preventing motion sickness. Ginger candies or biscuits will also work.


Eating can work for your or against you, depending on how your body reacts to food. See what works for you. It's better to have something light so that there's no acid reflux. Going hungry might also trigger a headche and could make you even more nauseous.

In any case, if you do eat something, it must be at least an hour before you start. Don't eat greasy, heavy and acidic foods. Try dry toast or plain bread, or something simple like a cracker. If you're more used to Indian foods, plain roti or idli could also work. It must be easily digestable.

If it makes you feel worse, don't eat the next time, especially if it's a short journey. Your body prefers your stomach calm and empty.

Sleeping when travelling is a good option to avoid motion sickness. If your eyes are closed, there is no discrepancy between what you see and what your inner ear is signalling to the brain. If you can't sleep, it would be best to keep your eyes closed and get some rest.


Drive if possible. Drivers rarely get car sick as they focus on the road. The next best thing is to sit in the front passenger seat. By focussing on a fixed point in a distance, say the horizon, you can resolve the mismatch between your balance system detecting motion and you being still. The front seat will give you more window space to look through and the ride is less bumpy in the front.


Stop the car, stretch your legs and relax as many times as possible. It is especially important if the journey is long and involves twisty roads. Breathe deeply from your stomach as it helps you to relax. Taking breaks will also give the driver some rest.

If you focus on a fixed point in the car, again, your brain is confused by the feeling of motion and you being stationary. Let your senses confirm you are on the move. So, try not to read or play board games.
It's not clear why car sickness affects some children more than others. While the problem does not seem to affect most infants and toddlers, children between the ages of 2-12 are particularly susceptible. Children usually sit low in the back seat without being able to see out the window or often read or play games in the car. The inner ear will sense motion, but the eyes and joints won't. Just as for adults, this could result in an upset stomach, cold sweat, fatigue, dizziness, loss of appetite or vomiting. If your child feels any of these symptoms, stop the car and let him walk around for a bit. You could also make him lie on his back for a few minutes with the eyes closed. Placing a cool cloth on the forehead might help as well. Also, take care of what children eat during the journey. Keep it light and avoid dairy or any other acidic food. Ask your peadeatrician about possible medication that might help. Of course, it would be best to avoid the use of drugs.

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