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General Information

DEFINITION--An unpleasant, temporary disturbance that occurs while traveling, characterized by dizziness and stomach upset.

BODY PARTS INVOLVED--Semicircular canals in the inner ear. These fluid-filled canals maintain balance.

SEX OR AGE MOST AFFECTED--Both sexes; all ages.


  • Loss of appetite.
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Spinning sensation.
  • Weakness and unsteadiness.
  • Confusion.
  • Yawning.

CAUSES--Motion, especially airplane, boat or car; amusement park ride or swinging. Irregular motion causes fluid changes in the semicircular canals of the inner ear, which transmit signals to the brain's vomiting center.


  • Don't eat large meals or drink alcohol before and during travel.
  • Sit in areas of the airplane (usually over the wings) or boat with the least motion.
  • Recline in your seat, if possible.
  • Breathe slowly and deeply.
  • Avoid areas where others are smoking, if possible.
  • On an airplane or bus, turn on the overhead air vent to improve air circulation.
  • Don't read.
  • Take medication to prevent motion sickness before you travel.
  • Some airlines have developed behavior-modification techniques for those who are afraid to fly or have motion sickness. Contact the airline or your travel agent for information.
  • Psychological factors contribute to motion sickness. Try to resolve concerns about travel before leaving home. Maintain a positive attitude.
  • Consider preventive therapy. One technique involves desensitization (special training for using your eyes that may help avoid the symptoms of motion sickness).

What To Expect


  • Your own observation of symptoms.
  • Medical history and physical exam by a doctor, if motion sickness is recurrent and interferes with your life.


  • Self-care.
  • Doctor's treatment, if you have a chronic illness that may be worsened by vomiting.
  • Psychotherapy or counseling, if your occupation or lifestyle requires travel and you usually develop motion sickness.


  • Dehydration from vomiting.
  • Falls and injuries from unsteadiness.

PROBABLE OUTCOME--Spontaneous recovery when the trip is over or soon thereafter.

How To Treat


  • Once you have the symptoms, try to rest in a dark room with a cool cloth over the eyes and forehead.
  • Allowing yourself to vomit can help the nausea. Don't make yourself vomit.


  • For minor discomfort, you may use non-prescription drugs, such as dimenhydrinate (Dramamine), before and during travel.
  • Your doctor may prescribe scopolamine patches to control symptoms. Remove promptly after travel is completed; long-term use is not recommended.

ACTIVITY--To minimize symptoms during travel, rest in a reclining position and fix your gaze on a distant object.

DIET--Eat lightly or not at all before and during brief trips. For longer trips, sip frequently on beverages--don't take large drinks--to maintain your fluid intake. Avoid alcohol, carbonated drinks and extra-cold beverages.

Call Your Doctor If

    You plan to travel and have had disabling motion sickness in the past.

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