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The causes, symptoms and treatments of motion sickness

In partnership with Dr Hamish Black

The inside word on how to avoid and treat motion sickness!

Primary-school aged boys in the back of their car feeling motion sickness
Primary-school aged boys in the back of their car feeling motion sickness

If you’ve ever felt queasy in a car or had to dash for the bathroom on a boat, you’ve probably experienced motion sickness. While it can make a trip miserable, there are several steps you can take to prevent the nausea from coming on in the first place, as well as ways to treat motion sickness once it hits.  

At nib, we consider ourselves your health partner, working with the experts to give you the tips and tricks to live your healthiest life yet. So, we spoke with nib Medical Advisor Dr Hamish Black to find out everything you need to know about motion sickness, how to avoid it and ways to treat it.  

What is motion sickness? 

Motion sickness refers to feeling unwell in a moving vehicle such as a car, bus, boat or plane. It is also known as travel sickness, sea sickness or car sickness. 

The causes of motion sickness 

Travel sickness is believed to be caused by a confusion of the senses. While our eyes might be telling us that we’re stationary when we’re looking at the inside of a car or a boat, our vestibular system (the balance mechanism in the inner ear) senses motion. The brain receives contradictory messages which leads to motion sickness. 

Causes of motion sickness include: 

  • Travelling in a car without a view of the horizon 

  • Reading or looking at a screen in a car 

  • Rocking on a boat 

  • Turbulence on a plane 

  • Watching moving or spinning objects 

  • Playing video games 

Some people are more prone to motion sickness, including: 

  • Children aged 2 to 12 

  • Women, especially those who are pregnant or at certain stages of their menstrual cycle  

  • People who suffer from vestibular disorders and migraines  

Man wearing a hoodie experiencing motion sickness on a ferry

Can you prevent motion sickness? 

“For the high-risk group, taking a medicine to prevent motion sickness is a good idea,” says Hamish. “Sedating antihistamines are best taken a few hours before travel. Because they can cause drowsiness, taking them when you already feel sick can make motion sickness worse. Taking one to two grams of ginger before travel or wearing acupressure bands on your wrists may also help.” 

You need to talk to your doctor or pharmacist first if you’re pregnant, taking other prescription or over-the-counter medications, or planning to give motion sickness medication to a child. 

Hamish also recommends these non-medicinal ways to prevent motion sickness: 

  • Drive the car instead of being a passenger if possible 

  • Look at the horizon or a distant stationary object 

  • Avoid reading or looking at a screen 

  • Choose seats that are less likely to cause motion sickness, such as the front seat of a car or bus, the wing seat in a plane, a forward-facing seat in a train or on the lower decks of a boat 

  • Eat light snacks before and during the trip and avoid alcohol 

  • Get as much fresh air as possible 

  • Anxiety can exacerbate symptoms, so use deep breathing or relaxation techniques if you feel anxious 

  • Some people say closing their eyes helps 

Spotting the symptoms 

The symptoms of motion sickness may include: 

  • Nausea or vomiting 

  • Dizziness

  • Fatigue 

  • Headache 

  • Sweating 

  • Burping or retching 

  • Excessive saliva 

How to treat motion sickness  

Almost all motion sickness medications work best if taken before travel. Once motion sickness has started, eating plain crackers or drinking a clear fizzy drink is your best bet to alleviate the symptoms. You may feel better after vomiting. 

If you’re travelling for an extended period, your motion sickness should subside after a few days. It will generally resolve once you get out of the moving vehicle or vessel.  

Please note: The tips throughout this article serve as broad information and should not replace any advice you have been given by your medical practitioner.  

Dr Hamish Black

Dr Hamish Black

In partnership with

Dr Hamish Black

Dr Hamish Black has been a medical practitioner for more than 25 years. In addition to his role as nib group medical advisor, he still spends two days a week practising as a GP. He has spent many years working in emergency departments and in rural Australia, including a stint with the Royal Flying Doctor Service. Hamish also loves karaoke and dancing (though not that well at either, he says!), with Play that Funky Music by Wild Cherry being his karaoke favourite.