Travel Sickness


What is travel sickness?

Travel sickness is also known as motion sickness. It is rare in children under two years but  becomes much more common after this age, reaching a peak between the ages of three and 12 years. After the age of 12 tolerance to motion increases and sickness is not so common. Females, both adults and children, are almost twice as likely as males to suffer from symptoms of travel sickness. This may be the result of hormonal factors.

Travel sickness can occur when using any mode of transport: car, boat, plane or train. If a person suffers from symptoms in one situation, they are also likely to suffer when using other forms of transport.

What are the symptoms of travel sickness?

Nausea is usually the first sign of travel sickness, followed by pallor, sweating and vomiting. Some people also suffer from headaches and drowsiness. After continued exposure the sickness usually stops. For example, when at sea most people will adapt to the motion of the ship after a few days.

What causes travel sickness?

There are several factors that can affect a person's susceptibility to travel sickness. Some people have a natural tendency to travel sickness, while others are influenced by the conditions during travel, such as the weather (eg, rough seas during a boat journey or turbulence during a flight), odours and the driving abilities of the person in control of the vessel or vehicle. The driver usually suffers fewer symptoms, perhaps because he or she is able to anticipate the motion. Females are more susceptible to travel sickness during menstruation and pregnancy as a result of hormonal influence.

What treatment is available?

There are some practical ways to reduce motion sickness:

  • Restrict head movement while sitting up or lying down - this may reduce the effects of the motion
  • If below deck on a ship or in an enclosed aircraft cabin, try closing your eyes
  • In a car or on deck, fix your eyes on the road or the horizon - this often helps to reduce symptoms
  • Avoid reading in a car as this is known to trigger symptoms
  • Elasticated bands may be worn around the wrist to exert pressure on an acupuncture point. Try wearing these - in some people this may help to reduce levels of nausea

Medicines to prevent symptoms of motion sickness are available from your doctor or pharmacist. Antihistamines may be given before a journey to prevent symptoms but although effective they cause drowsiness and people will be advised not to drive after taking them or to drink alcohol or operate dangerous machinery. Antihistamines which may be prescribed include promethazine (Avomine®) and cinnarizine (eg, Stugeron®). These treatments may also be purchased over the counter from a pharmacist. Another medicine that may be prescribed is hyoscine. This is available as tablets (Kwells®) or as skin patches (Scopoderm TTS®) which release the medicine slowly over a period of time.

Various other preparations for travel sickness are available to buy in pharmacies - ask your pharmacist for advice.

Fact sheet provided by MIMS

Date last reviewed: July 2015

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