You’ve planned your itinerary down to the very last minute and can’t wait to get away to your dream destination. You’ve packed for your trip and finished all pending business and feel positive that nothing can ruin your holiday. You jump on the plane and as it takes off, you remember you forgot to plan for a common condition that affects many people while travelling – travel sickness.

What is travel sickness?

Travel sickness can affect anyone, whether they’re going on a backpacking trip across scenic locations or a quick weekend getaway. It could include being extremely sensitive to local water and having a case of Bali Belly, or overdoing the local street food and having a bad case of diarrhoea. Some people get sick from travelling on planes and other local forms of public transport which are a breeding ground for germs.

Motion sickness

Motion sickness is a common form of travel sickness that occurs when you are travelling in cars, trains, buses, trams, ships or planes. You can also get motion sick on amusement park rides, watching virtual reality displays or computer animations. While anyone can get affected by motion sickness, some people are affected more than others. It is most commonly experienced by children aged 2 to 12 years and pregnant women. Often, as you grow older, the effects may become mild over time.

What causes motion sickness?

Motion sickness occurs as a result of the human body experiencing conflicting sensory messages. The inner part of the ears is responsible for controlling the sense of balance for the body. It sends messages to the brain when you are moving, standing up or lying down. The inner ear may sense motion, but the eyes or ears may not. This results in confusing messages being sent to the brain. When you are on a plane, you feel like you are moving, but your eyes may pass on a conflicting message telling the brain that it doesn’t appear you are going anywhere. In another scenario, when you are standing still on land after a long sea voyage, you may still feel like you’re moving.

Common symptoms of motion sickness

The body may show symptoms of motion sickness rather quickly, however, its severity depends on the intensity of movement experienced. Here are a few common symptoms:

  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Increase in saliva production
  • Paleness
  • Sweating
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Generally feeling tired
  • Burping
  • Shallow breathing
  • Inability to walk
  • Persistent retching

Common risk factors

People suffering from migraines are known to be more prone to experiencing motion sickness as are women compared to men. A few other factors that may affect your likelihood to suffer from motion sickness are:

  • When you are seated at the back of the bus or tram
  • When you are seated facing backwards
  • When you are travelling on an empty stomach
  • When you are reading a book or a map while travelling
  • When you are using an electronic device while travelling
  • When you have no access to fresh air or air circulation
  • When your body is experiencing hormonal changes during pregnancy and menstruation

Tips to prevent motion sickness

With a little planning ahead of your next holiday, you can try a few of these tips to prevent or reduce the intensity of motion sickness experienced:

  • Closing eyes to eliminate the sensory confusion
  • Practising relaxed, controlled breathing at a regular pace
  • Focusing your gaze on a stationary object such as the horizon in the distance
  • Choosing a seat as close to the front and forward-facing as possible
  • Choosing a seat over the front edge of an aeroplane wing which tends to be less bumpy
  • Choosing a cabin at the front of the ship and close to the waterline
  • Eating a light snack before travelling and avoiding alcohol at least 24 hours prior
  • Avoiding reading or using an electronic device
  • Ensuring there is enough fresh air or air conditioning
  • Staying hydrated by drinking plenty of water
  • Eating ginger

Treatment of motion sickness

Speak to your local TerryWhite Chemmart pharmacist about medications to help with motion sickness such as chewable tablets or syrups. Nearly all motion sickness medication is effective when taken a few hours before you travel. Here are a few medications that your doctor or pharmacist may prescribe:

  • Antihistamines that have a drowsy effect

Complimentary alternatives such as ginger

Pharmacist tips

  • If you are prone to motion sickness, it is a good idea to take medications at least 30 minutes prior to travelling.
  • When giving medication to children, it might be worth offering the medication a few days before you travel start date to ensure there are no side effects. This is because some antihistamines that cause sedation can also cause a paradoxical reaction in children resulting in stimulation. When travelling on a long flight, this can be disruptive.
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