Avoid “un-packing breakfast” due to motion sickness

Lots of people get motion sickness. It is rumored that Christopher Columbus even had trouble with sea sickness. Fortunately, you don’t have to dread that ship, car or plane trip for fear of “un-packing your breakfast” in full public view. There are a number of effective treatments and preventions for those who suffer from motion sickness — the goal is to keep trying until you find one that works, for you!

The basic problem with motion sickness is not in the stomach, but in the discoordination of the visual signals sent by the eyes, the inner ear (responsible for balance) and the brain. The Travel and Tropical Medicine Manual cited one study involving over 20,000 passengers crossing the English Channel and the North and Irish Seas. Their data showed that motion sickness was more common in females than males and the older you were, the less likely you were to be effected. Over one-third of the passengers in the study felt symptoms of motion sickness. For the lucky ones that have never felt motion sickness, the symptoms include cold sweats, nausea and weakness.

Where to sit and Where to look

Choose a seat with the smoothest ride, if possible. Over the wings of a plane, the front seat of a car, forward facing seats and laying flat on your back are all places to help minimize motion sickness. When the “feeling of yuck” starts to creep in, try to focus on a distant object (it will be moving the least) or close your eyes. Avoid reading or focusing on objects close by — their motion is much more obvious.

What to Take

There are several options for prevention and treatment of motion sickness. The two main medicines used are Scopolamine and Anti-histamines. Anybody who has been on a cruise has likely seen the scopolamine patch, on fellow passengers. Anti-histamines that are commonly used include diphenhydramine (Benadryl), promethazine and meclizine (Antivert). All of these medications come in different forms, some including patches, chewable tablets and pills. Scopolamine has some common side effects including dry mouth and blurry vision and should not be taken without prior discussion with your doctor due to some interactions with other medicines and medical conditions such as glaucoma. Anti-histamines commonly cause sedation, which, depending on your personal trip, may be a good thing. Just like with scopolamine, check with your doctor before taking these medicines.

The Rough Guide to Travel Health discusses several “homeopathic” remedies to motion sickness, including Cocculus 30c, Nux vomica 30c and Petroleum 30c taken in combination. One of my favorite “natural remedies” for nausea is Ginger and it can be found in many forms, including capsules. Although there are limited studies using ginger in treatment of motion sickness, it’s has been shown by some researchers to be effective in chemotherapy induced and pregnancy related nausea.

Motion Sickness Bands are a hot topic in travel medicine. Do they work? Are they a waste of money and do they only provide a placebo effect? I know some people who swear by them to prevent motion sickness. I do not use them, personally, but I have also never had a problem. What I do know is that there is conflict in the medical literature. The bands work by applying pressure to the P6 Neiguan accupressure point at the wrist. Several studies have shown this method to be effective in controlling other causes of nausea (pregnancy induced and during medical procedures) but no real research has been done with motion sickness that I know of.

Real Life

Like with anything, having a good trip requires some bit of pre-planning. Speak with your doctor about some options you can use for motion sickness and try them out before your trip. Four hours into your 10 day cruise is not the time to find out your chosen medication is not working or causing you to sleep away your holiday. I always try to live by “real world rules: two is one, one is none”. Carrying a back-up motion sickness remedy is a good idea, should you find yourself out of your first option or not able to access it. Lastly, if you are going to need to “un-pack breakfast” on a boat, try to make it to the down-wind side.

For some more reading, check out:

CDC Traveler’s Health: Motion Sickness