Don’t let motion sickness ruin holiday travel

LEWISTOWN – As many go to picnics and head for vacation, travel is an integral part of Independence Day festivities and summer plans. For those susceptible to motion sickness though, the road to get there may be no picnic.

“Basically, motion sickness is caused by sort of a disconnect between the eyes and the vestibular system, which is the inner ear area of the brain,” said William B. Swallow, a doctor of osteopathic medicine at Geisinger Family Health Associates in Belleville.

In short, people get sick when they can’t see the movement, but the brain senses it anyway. Swallow said that’s why those riding in the back seat are more likely to get sick; the eyes are looking at the seat in front of them or the other people in the car, which appear stationary and cause more of a disconnect with the brain.

Reading, watching movies or playing digital games can cause motion sickness as well, again because the eyes focus on a stationary object like a book or screen while the car – or train, bus or airplane, as the case may be – is moving.

“When they don’t match up, that’s when the motion sickness syndrome occurs,” Swallow said.

Swallow said certain demographic groups are more likely to experience the illness. Children are fairly resistant to motion sickness up to about age 2, then they are more likely to experience it than adults. The peak age for motion sickness is roughly age 12.

In adults, females are more likely than men to get motion sick, particularly while pregnant. People who suffer from migraines also are more susceptible.

For those who find themselves feeling ill while traveling, Swallow recommends sitting facing forward so the eyes are looking out the windshield of the car, in the front seat if possible. Lying down can also reduce the effects of the eye-brain disconnect.

Swallow said there are treatments for the syndrome, including antihistamine pills such as dimenhydrinate or meclizine – commonly known by the brand names Dramamine and Dramamine II. Benadryl is dimenhydrinate as well and is recommended for children. There is also a scopolamine patch that can be worn behind the ear for up to three days, which is useful for long trips and cruises. The patch is for adult use only.

For those desiring a more natural resolution, Swallow said ginger has been studied as an alternative.

“The mechanism of how it works is uncertain,” he said, but one to two grams of ginger prior to traveling has been found to help. Swallow suggests incorporating it into tea.

Other alternative medicines such as topical essential oils or therapies using pressure points are available, though Swallow could not verify their validity.

“If that treatment is found effective, it certainly can’t do any harm,” he said.

To prevent motion sickness, avoid looking at stationary objects while in a moving vehicle, Swallow said. In an age where nearly everyone is glued to an electronic device, those who are getting sick of it – literally – should turn to stand-by games like trying to spot out-of-state license plates or pointing out various types of vehicles in an effort to complete a list. The point is to be looking out the windows so the eyes take stock of the movement the brain senses.

“You have to get them to see the motion and feel the motion,” Swallow said. “If they’re looking down at a screen or a coloring book and they don’t see the movement that their inner ear sense, then that makes it more likely for them to get motion sick.”