If you have travel sickness you may have several symptoms, including:
- feeling sick
- a headache
- looking pale
- rapid breathing
Your symptoms will get better when the motion stops. They also tend to get better or go away completely on long trips, such as on a ship as you're likely to adapt to the motion and will gradually recover.
These symptoms may be caused by problems other than travel sickness. If you have any of these symptoms, see your GP when possible for advice.
If you find you get travel sickness, see your pharmacist. If you have severe or frequent travel sickness, you may need to see your GP.
Your pharmacist will ask about your symptoms and examine you. He or she may also ask you about your medical history.
There are many over-the-counter medicines available from a pharmacy.
Some examples of medicines that are used to treat travel sickness are listed below. Ideally, take these before you travel.
Always read the patient information leaflet that comes with your medicine and if you have any questions, ask your GP or pharmacist for advice.
Hyoscine hydrobromide is one of the most effective medicines for preventing travel sickness. It works by blocking the confusing nerve signals from your vestibular system. You can buy hyoscine tablets (eg Kwells, Joy Rides) over-the-counter at a pharmacy. You need to take them about 30 minutes before you travel and their effect lasts for about six hours.
If you have severe travel sickness, your GP may prescribe hyoscine as a skin patch (Scopoderm TTS). You stick the patch onto your skin behind your ear five or six hours before you travel. It can prevent travel sickness for up to three days. The patches are only suitable for adults and children over the ages of 10.
Hyoscine may cause side-effects such as a dry mouth, drowsiness, blurry vision and dizziness.
Antihistamines (eg cinnarizine and cyclizine) can help reduce travel sickness. You need to take antihistamines about two hours before you travel. Some antihistamines can cause drowsiness, such as promethazine.
Some people find that wearing bands that apply pressure onto your wrist – at an acupuncture point called P6 – can help with travel sickness. There is some evidence that acupressure may help pregnant women with morning sickness, but there hasn't been much research about its effect on travel sickness.
Ginger is a traditional herbal remedy for travel sickness. There is some evidence that ginger may be effective for pregnant women with morning sickness and it may also help people feel less sick following surgery and cancer patients having chemotherapy. But there have been few studies on its effect on travel sickness. You can take ginger in many ways, such as in tea or as capsules containing ginger powder.
The exact reasons why you may develop travel sickness aren't fully understood at present. However, research suggests that it's caused by movements when travelling, such as tilting and shaking, which can confuse your brain.
Normally, your vestibular system, which is located in your inner ear, keeps track of your body, head and eye movements. This helps you to change position and control your balance. However, during travel, the motion your vestibular system senses doesn't match what you see. This conflict between the senses is thought to cause travel sickness.
Anyone can get travel sickness and no one knows why some people are more sensitive than others. People who are at higher risk of getting it include:
- children between the age of two and 12
- women – especially when pregnant, when on their period, or taking hormone medicines
- people who get migraines
- people who expect to be sick
As well as the methods listed under our treatment section, there are several things you can do to help prevent travel sickness when you're travelling including the following.
- Your position can affect your chances of getting travel sickness – wherever possible, drive a car instead of being a passenger, sit in the front seat of a car or bus, sit over the wing in a plane, or sit in the centre of a ship or on the upper deck.
- Keep your eyes fixed on the horizon.
- Keep your head still.
- Don't read – try listening to story tapes instead.
- Open a window to let fresh air in.
- Don't smoke before or while travelling.
- Don't drink alcohol before or while travelling.
- Try to distract yourself – play travel games or listen to music.
Some people find that lying down helps but this isn't always possible if you’re travelling by car or plane. Others find that the best way to deal with travel sickness is to close their eyes and go to sleep.
Can I take travel sickness medicines if I'm pregnant?
Yes, you can take some types of travel sickness medicines if you're pregnant. However, always read the patient information leaflet that comes with your medicine and if you have any questions, ask your GP or pharmacist for advice.
Some medicines can affect the development of your baby, so it's important to always check what you're taking is safe for pregnant women. Hyoscine isn't suitable if you're pregnant, for example.
If you're pregnant and get travel sickness, antihistamines such as cyclizine and promethazine may work well but check with your GP before you use them.
What is the best place to sit to prevent travel sickness?
You may have less travel sickness if you sit in places where the motion is smallest, or where you have the best view.
If you're in a car, drive rather than be a passenger or sit in the front seat if possible. If you're travelling by air, you might find that sitting over the wing helps. If you're on a boat, go on the upper deck, or if that isn't possible, to the middle of the boat where the motion is least. All these places help to minimise motion and reduce the confusing signals that are sent to your brain.
What travel sickness medicines can children take?
The doses and types of travel sickness medicines that are suitable for children vary. Always read the patient information that comes with your medicine and if you have any questions, ask your GP or pharmacist for advice.
Children are more susceptible to the side-effects of antihistamines so they are more likely to get drowsy or have other problems, such as dizziness or confusion.
You can give hyoscine to children over the age of three but the patches aren't recommended for children under the age of 10.
- Fit for travel
- Spinks A, Wasiak J. Scopolamine (hyoscine) for preventing and treating motion sickness. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2011, Issue 6. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD002851.pub4
- Motion sickness. Fit for Travel. www.fitfortravel.nhs.uk, accessed 17 November 2011
- Motion sickness. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. www.cdc.gov, published 1 July 2011
- Joint Formulary Committee. British National Formulary. 63rd ed. London: British Medical Association and Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain; 2011
- Antenatal care: routine care for the healthy pregnant woman. National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE), 2008. www.nice.org.uk
- Petrelli NJ, Winer EP, Brahmer J, et al. Clinical cancer advances 2009: major research advances in cancer treatment, prevention, and screening – a report from the American Society of Clinical Oncology. J Clin Oncol 2009; 27(35):6052–69. doi:10.1200/JCO.2009.26.6171
- Graudins LV. Preventing motion sickness in children. Aust Prescr 2009; 32(3):61–63. www.australianprescriber.com
- Fit for travel
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