10 Ways to Combat Motion Sickness (from a life-long sufferer)

Posted on
Mar 29, 2010

I am not what you would call “strong-stomached”. Years ago, when I was a college intern at a local news station, one of the reporters called me “the runt” of the intern litter, and explained that had I lived a 100 years ago, I’d have promptly died of some contagious disease. I have been known to get nauseated on playground swings. I still have flashbacks to the one time I went on a spinning carnival ride know as “The Gravitron” in seventh grade. And last year, my doctor diagnosed me with B.P.P.V. – Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo (which is a fancy way of saying that my ear canals are wonky, and often make me dizzy).

Bottom line? I don’t do well on planes, trains, or automobiles. Ditto for cars, boats, and aforementioned playground swings. So I know a thing or two about keeping my lunch down when I’m traveling. Here are my top ten tips to those of you who, like me, don’t do so well when things start to move (and, from what I hear, they’re applicable to any type of nausea from motion sickness to too-much-to-drink-sickness to morning sickness).

  1. Get some stability. Simply placing your hand on a flat, stable surface can help your body regain its bearings and fight off nausea. This is hard to manage when you’re actually moving, but once you’ve stopped, try placing your hand on a wall or table-top, and you’ll start feeling better soon. I’ve even placed my hand up against a car window (while we were moving) and felt better.
  2. Ginger. Whether it’s candy, these awesome little ginger cookies from Trader Joe’s that all my pregnant friends swear by, or even tablets, ginger has actually been proven to help prevent and combat nausea. And don’t forget – ginger ale is widely offered on most flights.
  3. Just breathe. Okay, fine – this is actually adapted from a tip I once saw in a Cosmo magazine … about, um … well, something totally different. But breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth will help calm all those creepy little muscles in your jaw and neck that start to tingle and make you want to barf.
  4. Get some sleep. No one feels in tip-top shape when they’re tired, and not getting enough sleep before a trip can exacerbate feelings of nausea, impair your immune system, and generally make you feel queasy all over.
    My hubby staves off nausea, at a ridiculous price.

    My hubby staves off nausea, at a ridiculous price.

  5. Eat something. An empty stomach is not a strong stomach. Eating something a few hours before your trip (so it has time to settle) will have you feeling a lot better (and less light-headed) that if you eat nothing. And, not to get too graphic, but barfing on an empty stomach means lots of bile, and lots of burning.
    No. Really. This will make you LESS nauseated.

    No. Really. This will make you LESS nauseated.

  6. Chin up! Keeping your head up, and straight ahead, is a great preventative measure against motion sickness. Bending down (to look at something, or to read) usually makes things far, far worse. If you’re like me, even tilting your head to take a nap on a plane can be disastrous (my last bout of vertigo was brought on by that). Keep your head straight, utilize the folding sides of your head rest, or invest in a neck pillow.
  7. Irrigate your sinuses. When pressure in my ears starting giving me the spins, my doctor suggested irrigating my sinuses. Though seemingly unrelated, it’s a great way to clear out any passages that might be blocked, which can lead to illness, dizziness, and vertigo. Pick up a neti-pot. It will change your life – or at least your sinuses – for the better.
  8. Look at the horizon. In addition to keeping your head up, looking at something stable in the distance – usually the horizon – will help your body regain it’s bearings and stave off nausea. This is harder to achieve on planes, but if this trick works for you, opt for the window seat (provided seeing the earth fall away doesn’t make you feel sicker). When riding in cars, trains, or buses, try sitting near the front of the vehicle or compartment, keep your eyes ahead of you, and avoid reverse-facing seats.
    Staring at the horizon in Germany, en route to Slovenia.

    Staring at the horizon in Germany, en route to Slovenia.

  9. Pop some pills. Usually a last resort, there are some over-the-counter medicines that really do work. In addition to natural alternatives (like ginger pills), you can try meclizine, which is used to treat nausea, vomiting, and motion sickness. While it is available over the counter, it was prescribed to me by my doctor, and if you have any health issues, I’d recommend talking to your doctor first. Also, just as a warning, these will knock you the heck out, esp. if you have a glass of wine.
  10. Know that this, too, shall pass. Sometimes it seems like the dizziness will never, ever go away. That you’ll be keeled over on your bed with the spins for the rest of eternity. But you won’t be. I promise. And sometimes, just realizing that is enough to make you start feeling better.

    Yay! No barfing!

    Yay! No barfing!

Leave a Comment

  • jim

    I find that focusing on a point far off in the distance, which works well in cars, cruise ships, and planes, also helps. It’s sort of like the visual version of your #1 tip. I don’t suffer from BPPV, just the occasional car sickness, but hopefully that’ll help.

  • Holy Christ, the GRAVITRON. I had forgotten/repressed that one. Sea Bands can be helpful but seriously, nothing beats a good box of gingersnaps.

  • Christine

    I’ve also found that half a Unisom and a low-dose Vitamin B6 tablet work wonders. My second cousin Jimmy has been an OB-GYN for about 30 years, and he tells all his patients with bad morning sickness to use this trick. The Unisom has an anti-histamine, which combats nausea. The B6 combats nausea and also gives you an energy boost (which combats the sleep-inducing qualities of the Unisom).

  • Sadly, there isn’t much of a horizon to look at driving from Orlando to Tampa Bay. It’s pretty flat! Never fear though, I’ll have sinus irrigation implements (aka tissues) at the ready for your arrival. Can’t wait to see you tomorrow!

  • I swear by Ginger Ale and regular old saltine crackers! And Christine is right about taking B vitamins – a lot of the time nausea is caused by dehydration and B vitamin deficiency, so filling up on water and a good multi-B really does work wonders. 🙂

    P.S..Does Rand know you took that picture of him sleeping?

  • Rebekah

    I just ran across this article in my search for remedies for motion sickness. Like you, I’ve tried to combat this my entire life. It doesn’t matter where (car, plane, train, spaceship), I often get that horrible nauseous feeling no matter what I try. Sleep, horizon (although I much prefer the aisle seat because for me, it’s a matter of balance on a plane….and I also need to be cool) and stability seem to be what helps most. Oddly enough, I love to fly (as both a passenger and more recently, in the pilot seat) so thanks for all these additional suggestions. Let’s hope ginger prevails!

  • Susan

    The day I came home from the hospital I threw up in the car. I have been throwing up ever since. Anywhere, anytime… anyplace where there is motion.

    Three months ago, at 52 years of age I had a major onslaught of vertigo. It has been gradually tapering of since. Head manoeuvers didn’t help at all, only made life unbearable for an hour or so.

    I had an audiologist tell me that my ear canals are unusually small. I wish that someone would do a study on chronic motion sickness, vertigo and the inner ear. For those of us who suffer regularly from motion, answers would be interesting and maybe even helpful.

    • Bobbi

      Have you seen a neurologist? Not to scare you – it is not life threatening, but read about Arnold Chiari Malformation I have same motion sickness all my life with severe headache at back of head, neck. Just something to think about.

  • Jana

    I have been so sensitive my entire life but feel it is getting worse with age. I was diagnosed with tinnitus and have 70% damage in one ear only. I discovered a weird one for the battle once the spins have set in. I pour a few inches of coke into a glass and add a half spoon of baking soda to it. It’s like a strong alka seltzer and makes for forceful and frequent burps but frequently decreases or eliminates a set of full on spins.

  • Layla

    Do you find that you suffer for days after flying? I am sick for the rest of the day after a flight and then have to sleep 16 hours a day for the next week. It sucks and ruins any vacation where I have to fly to get there. Although I do get car, train, boat and playground sick it doesn’t last nearly as long.

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