What’s Motion Sickness?
If you’ve ever been sick to your stomach while riding in a car, train, airplane, or boat, you know exactly what motion sickness feels like. It’s no fun.
To understand motion sickness, it helps to understand a few parts of your body and how they affect the way you feel movement:
- Inner ears: Liquid in the semicircular canals of the inner ear allows you to sense if you’re moving, and, if you are, which way you’re moving — up, down, side to side, round and round, forward, or backward.
- Eyes: What you see also lets your body know whether you’re moving and in which direction.
- Skin receptors: These receptors tell your brain which parts of your body are touching the ground.
- Muscles and joint sensory receptors: These sensing receptors tell your brain if you’re moving your muscles and which position your body is in.
The brain gets an instant report from these different parts of your body and tries to put together a total picture about what you are doing just at that moment. But if any of the pieces of this picture don’t match, you can get motion sickness.
For example, if you’re riding in a car and reading a book, your inner ears and skin receptors will detect that you are moving forward. However, your eyes are looking at a book that isn’t moving, and your muscle receptors are telling your brain that you’re sitting still. So the brain gets a little confused. Things may begin to feel a little scrambled inside your head at that point.
When this happens, you might feel really tired, dizzy, or sick to your stomach. Sometimes you might even throw up. And if you’re feeling scared or anxious, your motion sickness might get even worse.
Avoiding Motion Sickness
To avoid motion sickness:
- Put your best face forward. Always sit facing forward. Don’t face backward in your seat or sit in a seat that faces backward. Sitting forward helps keep the motion sensed by your eyes and ears the same.
- Examine the great outdoors. Look outside. From inside a car, look at stuff far away, like the barn up ahead or a mountain. If you’re seasick on a boat, go to the top deck (in the middle of the boat) and look far out into the horizon — where the sea and sky meet. On an airplane, try looking out the window. This way, your eyes won’t be fooled into thinking you’re not moving when you actually are.
- Get to the middle of things. Whatever you’re riding in, find the place with the least amount of movement. This means sitting closer to the center of a plane (in the aisle seats over the wings) or in the middle of a boat — rather than at the sides or the front, where you’re more likely to feel seasick.
If you feel this way easily during any kind of movement, it’s a good idea to go to the doctor. He or she will want to make sure there’s nothing wrong with your inner ears or any of the other body parts that sense movement.
But for typical motion sickness, your parent may be able to give you medicine before you travel. For some kids, it may help to wear pressure bracelets that can be bought at the drugstore.
If you feel yourself getting sick while you’re traveling in a car, it might help if the driver finds a safe spot where you can get out and walk around a little bit. If you can’t pull over, make sure you have a plastic bag in the car — just in case!
Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: January 2014