The science behind travel sickness - and how to prevent it

Friday, 19th July 2019, 9:37 am
Updated Friday, 19th July 2019, 10:37 am

Travel may be full of adventure and excitement, but sometimes the journey to your destination can bring with it unwelcome feelings of sickness.

Many of us will be familiar with the nauseous feeling that comes from spending too long in the back seat of a car, but what actually causes travel sickness, and how can we avoid it?

Why do we get car sick?

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According to GP and author, Dr Sarah Brewer, travel and motion sickness can be triggered by any form of transport. When motion-detecting cells in the inner ears are excessively stimulated, messages are sent to the brain which don't match the degree of movement detected by the eyes.

"Your eyes tell your brain that the environment is stationary, but your balance organs say that is isn't, triggering feelings of travel sickness," Brewer explains.

"Travel or motion sickness is a condition that affects adults and children alike, and can make travelling stressful and uncomfortable.

Reading is revealed to be the biggest culprit for triggering car sickness (Photo: Shutterstock)

"Most people have experienced it at some point in their lives, but some, particularly children, are especially sensitive as their nerve pathways involved are not fully developed.

"Before the age of 10, children are especially susceptible."

What are the causes travel sickness?

New research reveals nausea as the most common symptom of travel sickness, with as many as two thirds of the nation experiencing feelings of sickness, followed by vomiting and generally feeling unwell.

The research (conducted by Euro Car Parts) also revealed reading to be the biggest cause of car sickness, with 39 per cent of people citing this as the most common culprit.

Small cars were found to cause motion sickness, affecting almost half of the population (Photo: Shutterstock)

Travelling backwards also ranked highly in causing queasiness, headaches and dizziness.

The most common causes of travel sickness:

ReadingTravelling backwardsSitting the the back seatTravelling while tiredAfter drinking alcoholWatching a screenDehydrationTravelling while hungryStanding while travelling on public transportAfter eating

A significant number of people surveyed (44 per cent) were found to feel more unwell when travelling in small cars.

Remedies and treatments

To help avoid the feelings of motion sickness, Dr Brewer offers the following advice to make your journey more comfortable.

Watch what and when you eat and drink

When travelling, it can be tempting to buy quick and easy fast food from service stations en route, but greasy, fatty and spicy food can cause nausea, and trigger or worsen travel sickness.

On the other hand, you should avoid travelling on an empty stomach.

Have a light meal instead around 45 to 60 minutes before travelling, and keep refuelling with snacks which are bland, and low in fat and acid.

Position is everything

If possible, offer to drive.

Drivers are less likely to suffer from travel sickness, as they are concentrating on the outside.

If driving isn’t an option, try to sit in the front seat and open the windows to get fresh air circulating. Keep your attention focused on the distant horizon to reduce your sensory input.

To reduce nausea-inducing movement in other vehicles, try and sit between the wheels on buses or coaches, where movement is less, or in the area above the wings on an aeroplane.

If all else fails, try medication

For travel sickness, prevention is easier than treating symptoms once they start.

Taking antihistamine called cinnarizine - which works on the vomiting centre in the brain to stop nausea, and on the balance organs in the inner ear to reduce sensitivity to motion - can be effective.

Take it two hours before a journey will reduce your susceptibility to motion sickness for at least eight hours.

If you prefer a more natural option, try ginger tablets or wearing acupressure bands on your wrists.