Motion Sickness

Ask The Expert

November 22, 2007|By HOLLY SELBY

For many Americans, the holiday season begins today with a journey -- perhaps in a car crammed with pies, kids and the family dog or on an overbooked flight. Unfortunately, for some, the trip to Grandma's or Uncle Joe's or sister Sue's may be marred by motion sickness.

About one-third of the general population may be affected by motion sickness on a regular basis, says Dr. Russell Wright, otolaryngologist and president of the medical staff at St. Joseph Medical Center. Though motion sickness is not considered medically serious, if you are the one suffering from the condition, it can feel serious indeed.

What causes motion sickness?

Motion sickness is generally caused by a disconnect in the brain. It is the feeling that comes from a lack of coordination of signals from different parts of your body because of sudden or repeated jerky movements.

Your body knows where it is in space because the part of the brain called the cerebellum coordinates nerve signals from your ears, your eyes and sensors in your skin, joints and muscles in response to movement.

As long as they are all coordinated, everything is OK. But when you are twisting, spinning, moving side to side -- as when riding in a car on a curving road -- the signals can become mixed.

Who is susceptible to motion sickness?

Motion sickness is very common. It affects about 33 percent of the general population on a regular basis. About half of all children may be affected by it, and almost 100 percent of people who travel on rough seas.

It really can affect anyone. I used to be a paratrooper, and we made our drops from about 1,250 to 1,500 feet. Sometimes prior to the drop, the aircraft would fly lower to the ground than that, and you'd see a lot of troops with motion sickness.

But some people never have any trouble, and we never know why.

Sometimes older folks seem more susceptible to the surges of a boat or the spins of a carnival ride. Is there an age component?

As we get a little older almost everything starts to not work as well as it used to. Older folks do have a greater tendency to have more balance problems so you probably will see some older folks being more greatly affected by motion sickness. What are the symptoms?

Symptoms include nausea and possibly vomiting and dizziness. People with motion sickness may feel as though the room is spinning. They may break out in a sweat. They may have a feeling of tiredness.

Is it hereditary?

Not to my knowledge.

Other than not being a paratrooper and never traveling, what can you do to avoid motion sickness?

On a boat, go on deck and watch the horizon because it will give your body a sense of how your body is moving.

In a car, sit in front and look at distant scenery.

In an airplane, choose a seat near a window and look outside (this won't work if the air is turbulent). Or choose a seat over the wing (sitting in the tail is not a good thing).

In addition, try not to read or to sit facing backward (backward seats can be found on trains or in vans and some airplanes).

Also, avoid greasy, spicy foods or foods with strong odors.

Finally, don't talk about it with other travelers. It's the old, if-you-think-about-it-you-will-feel-sick routine.

Are there any medications for motion sickness?

There are some; two include meclizine (found in the drugs called Dramamine and Bonine), which comes in either over-the-counter strength or prescription strength. That is a type of antihistamine. We aren't sure what it does, but it is a good anti-nausea medicine.

The other drug is scopolamine -- or belladonna -- which usually comes in a patch that is worn behind the ear. You need to use it at least four hours before traveling.

Both are effective, but you need to take them before ... getting in a car (or other vehicle). Both may cause the side effects of sleepiness and dry mouth.

Some people swear by wrist or travel bands that are worn to prevent motion sickness. Do these work?

These are wrist bands that put pressure on the inside of your wrist. It goes back to a pressure point phenomenon. I've not been able to find any studies that say that they work -- or that they don't work. There's no evidence one way or the other.

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