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Travel sickness

If you get travel sickness, you’ll be only too familiar with its unpleasant symptoms that can include dizziness, feeling sick and vomiting.

This type of motion sickness affects you when you travel, commonly by car, boat or plane. But it’s also possible to get symptoms on fairground rides and swings. And sometimes even when you aren’t moving at all – for example, if you play a virtual reality game or in the cinema.

Children under two don’t tend to get travel sickness and nor do people over the age of 50. It’s more common in children aged three to 12 years old and in women.

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Details

  • Symptoms Symptoms of travel sickness

    If you have travel sickness, you may get several symptoms, including:

    • feeling sick
    • vomiting
    • feeling dizzy
    • a headache
    • sweating a lot
    • looking pale
    • rapid breathing
    • drowsiness
    • pain in your abdomen (tummy)

    Your symptoms will usually get better when the motion stops, but they may carry on for a few days. Symptoms also tend to get better or go away completely on long trips, such as on a ship as you adapt to the motion.

    You probably won’t need to see your GP for travel sickness as you can usually manage the symptoms yourself. However, if they persist or aren’t helped by the treatments explained here, contact your GP for advice.

  • Diagnosis Diagnosis of travel sickness

    If you get travel sickness, see your pharmacist. If you have severe or frequent travel sickness and over-the-counter treatments don’t work or your symptoms persist, you may need to see your GP.

  • Treatment Treatment of travel sickness

    There are many over-the-counter medicines available from pharmacies. It’s best to take these before you travel to prevent travel sickness, rather than to try and treat your symptoms once they have started.

    Medicines

    Some examples of medicines that are used to treat travel sickness are explained here. These often come as tablets but some are also available as patches.

    Always read the patient information leaflet that comes with your medicine. If you have any questions, ask your pharmacist or GP for advice.

    Hyoscine

    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 in your inner ear. You can buy hyoscine tablets (eg Kwells, Joy Rides) from a pharmacy – you don’t need a prescription. Try to take them about 30 minutes before you travel; 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 the 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 10.

    Hyoscine may cause side-effects such as a dry mouth, drowsiness, blurred vision and dizziness.

    Antihistamines

    Antihistamines (eg cinnarizine and cyclizine) can help reduce travel sickness. You need to take them about an hour before you travel. Some antihistamines, such as promethazine, can make you feel drowsy.

    Complementary therapies

    Acupressure

    Some people find that wearing wristbands that apply pressure at an acupuncture point called P6 can ease travel sickness. Although these help some people, very little research has been done into this and there isn’t any firm scientific proof that they work.

    Ginger

    Ginger is a herbal remedy that some people take for travel sickness and also for morning sickness in pregnancy. As with acupressure, there haven’t been many studies on how well it really works so it’s not possible to say. But if you want to try it, you can take ginger in many ways, such as in tea or as capsules that contain ginger powder.

  • Bupa Travel Insurance

    We offer adaptable cover for a range of holidays including family getaways, short breaks, business trips and more.

  • Causes Causes of travel sickness

    The exact reasons why some people develop travel sickness aren’t fully understood at present. However, it’s thought that certain movements create a conflict between what your eyes see and what your inner ears sense. Usually, your vestibular system, which is found in your inner ear, keeps track of your body, head and eye movements. This helps you to change position and control your balance. However, sometimes when you’re travelling, 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, on their period or if they are taking hormone medicines
    • people who get migraines
    • people who have a tendency to feel sick
  • Prevention Prevention of travel sickness

    As well taking medicines and therapies, there are several things you can do to help prevent travel sickness, which include the following.

    • Your position can affect your chance of getting travel sickness. Wherever possible, drive a car instead of being a passenger or sit in the front seat of a car or bus. It may also help to sit over the wing in a plane, or 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 or watch a video screen – look outside the vehicle instead.
    • Open a window to let fresh air in.
    • Don’t smoke before or while you travel.
    • Don’t drink alcohol before or while you travel.
    • Try to distract yourself – play travel games or listen to music.
    • Wherever possible, lie down and close your eyes.
  • FAQs FAQs

    Can I take travel sickness medicines if I'm pregnant?

    Answer

    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. If you have any questions, ask your pharmacist or GP for advice.

    Explanation

    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. For example, hyoscine isn’t suitable if you’re pregnant.

    If you’re pregnant and get travel sickness, antihistamines such as promethazine or cyclizine may work well. However, check with your pharmacist or GP before you use them.

    Where is the best place to sit to prevent travel sickness?

    Answer

    You may have less travel sickness if you sit where the motion is smallest, and so you have a clear, wide view.

    Explanation

    If you’re in a car, drive rather than be a passenger or sit in the front seat if possible. This will help you to focus on the horizon. 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, the middle of the boat where the motion is least. This will help to minimise movement and reduce the confusing signals that are sent to your brain.

    What travel sickness medicines can children take?

    Answer

    The types and doses of travel sickness medicines that are suitable for children vary. Always read the patient information that comes with your medicine. If you have any questions, ask your pharmacist or GP for advice.

    Explanation

    Children are more susceptible to the side-effects of antihistamines so they are more likely to get drowsy. They may also 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.

  • Resources Resources

    Further information

    Sources

    • Motion sickness. Medscape. www.emedicine.medscape.com, published 23 April 2014
    • Motion sickness. The Merck Manuals. www.merckmanuals.com, published November 2013
    • Motion sickness. fit fortravel. www.fitfortravel.nhs.uk, published 4 August 2014
    • Motion sickness. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. www.cdc.gov, published 1 August 2013
    • Joint Formulary Committee. British National Formulary (online) London: BMJ Group and Pharmaceutical Press. www.medicinescomplete.com, accessed 4 August 2014
    • Scopolamine. Medscape. www.medscape.com, published 23 April 2014
    • The use of ginger in the prevention of motion sickness. BestBETs. www.bestbets.org, published 17 October 2011
    • Matthews A, Haas DM, O'Mathúna DP, et al. Interventions for nausea and vomiting in early pregnancy. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2014, Issue 3. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD007575.pub3
    • Watson R Preedy V, editors. Bioactive food as dietary interventions for liver and gastrointestinal disease. Boston: Elsevier, 2013:187–99
    • Nausea/vomiting in pregnancy. NICE Clinical Knowledge Summaries. cks.nice.org.uk, published June 2013
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    Reviewed by Rachael Mayfield-Blake, Bupa Health Content Team, September 2014.

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