Beating Motion Sickness

It's hard to have fun while you're nauseated. That's a truism that has endured from Admiral Horatio Nelson's days as commander of the British fleet in the Napoleanic Wars to these days of travel into space. Whether you want to be an astronaut, compete in a round-the-world yacht race, or pilot a Grand Prix racecar, susceptibility to motion sickness can be a limiting factor. Each year millions will experience the debilitating effects of carsickness, seasickness and airsickness, and while the phenomenon might help the paper bag industry, it sure isn't good for the rest of us.

A couple of important questions about motion sickness are: who gets it and what causes it? One of the world's leading experts in motion sickness, Dr. John Golding, senior lecturer of London's University of Westminster, says that almost all humans are susceptible to motion sickness, but some people are more prone to the condition. Motion sickness is caused by sensory conflict between the inner ear and eyes. For example, when one reads in a car the eyes are fixed on the page and sense stability, but the body feels the motion of the car, motion sickness can result. The mixed signals cause the unpleasant side effects of motion sickness that may include sweating, drowsiness, queasiness, nausea, and vomiting. None of those symptoms will make your day better.

"There are many professions and activities where susceptibility to motion sickness is a risk factor," said Golding, who has studied the effects of motion sickness on the Royal Air Force and the British Navy. "In fact, Lord Horatio Nelson, one of the British Navy's most legendary commanders of the nineteenth century, who suffered terribly from seasickness all his life, was purported to have told many a sailor, 'If you want to avoid motion sickness, go sit under a tree.'"

Since going to sit under a tree when you're driving isn't an option, it is fortunate that if you're susceptible to motion sickness, you can prevent it. At the very least, using simple techniques and proven medications, you can appreciably limit motion sickness's effects.

"One proven way to prevent motion sickness is with scopolamine, the active ingredient in a medicated patch called Transderm Scop," said Dr. Kenneth Dardick, a Connecticut-based national travel health expert. "It's a prescription medication, so if you are prone to motion sickness on land, sea, or air, talk to your doctor."

Dardick reminds patients that Transderm Scop should not be used by children or by those with glaucoma, difficulty in urinating, or an allergy to scopolamine or other belladonna alkaloids. In clinical studies of the drug, some side effects were noted, including dryness of the mouth (in two-thirds of users), drowsiness (reported incidence: less than one in six), and blurred vision.

If you're prone to carsickness even while driving, though, Transderm Scop is not for you. While using it, you should not drive a vehicle, operate dangerous machinery (like bulldozers or drill presses), or do other things that require alertness, and users should avoid using alcohol.

In addition the use of scopolamine, Dardick recommends other ways to prevent carsickness. Among his suggestions: sit in the front seat, look out the window, and avoid reading. (This is especially important if you are driving.) Fresh air also seems to help, so roll down that window and stop every once in a while to help your body reacclimatize. If all else fails, wrestle the steering wheel away from the driver and drive the car yourself.

No matter how you look at it (and we try not to look at it at all) vomiting is not fun, but by following these tips you might be able to avoid becoming nauseous on your next trip. Now if we could just do something about road food.


A world traveler who is prone to occasional bouts of nausea, Tom Ripley writes about automotive issues and the human condition from his home in Villeperce, France.