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Healthcare

Travel Sickness

Travel or motion sickness is a term that describes an unpleasant combination of symptoms, such as dizziness, nausea and vomiting, that can occur when you're travelling. In most cases, the symptoms of motion sickness will start to improve as your body adapts to the conditions causing the problem. Anyone can get motion sickness, but some are more vulnerable than others. Women often experience motion sickness, particularly during pregnancy and it is also more common in children aged 3 to 12. After this age, most teenagers grow out of the condition.

  • Travel Sickness

    About Travel Sickness
    Travel sickness isn't only restricted to car and sea travel, you can also get it on train journeys and air travel as well as on fairground rides and swings. Travel sickness is most common in children. However, many children become less susceptible as they get older.

    Symptoms of Travel Sickness
    If you have travel sickness you may have several symptoms, including:

    • feeling sick
    • vomiting
    • dizziness
    • a headache
    • sweating
    • looking pale
    • rapid breathing
    • drowsiness

    Symptoms 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 gradually recover. If you find you get severe or frequent travel sickness, see a doctor.

    Causes of Travel Sickness
    Although travel sickness isn't fully understood, 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.

    Treatment of Travel Sickness
    Your doctor may prescribe you medicines that help prevent travel sickness. You may also be able to buy non-prescription medicines from a pharmacy (chemist or drugstore).

    Medicines
    Some examples of medicines that are used to treat travel sickness are listed below. Ideally you should take these before you travel. Always read the patient information that comes with your medicine and if you have any questions, ask a pharmacist or doctor for advice.

    Hyoscine Hyoscine hydrobromide is one of the best medicines for preventing travel sickness. It works by blocking the confusing nerve signals from your vestibular system. You need to take tablets containing hyoscine about 30 minutes before you travel and their effect lasts for about six hours. You may also be able to use a skin patch containing hyoscine. You stick the patch onto your skin behind your ear five or six hours before travelling. 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 drowsiness, blurry vision and dizziness.

    Antihistamines Antihistamines (eg cinnarizine and cyclizine) can help reduce travel sickness. You need to take antihistamines about two hours before you travel. Rarely, these can cause drowsiness.

    Availability and use of different treatments may vary from country to country. Ask your doctor for advice on your treatment options.

    Complementary Therapy
    Acupressure 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 Ginger is a traditional remedy for travel sickness. There is some evidence that ginger may be effective for pregnant women with morning sickness and it may also help patients feel less sick following surgery. 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.

    Preventing Travel Sickness
    As well as the methods listed above, there are several things you can do to help prevent travel sickness when you're travelling.
    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 an aircraft, 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 are 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.

    Sources
    Spinks A, Wasiak J, Bernath V, et al. Scopolamine (hyoscine) for preventing and treating motion sickness. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, 2007.
    CDC 2010: Health information for international travel - the yellow book. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. www.cdc.gov, accessed 29 December 2009
    Fong K. The limits of medicine. BMJ 2004; 329(7480):1441-44
    Travel sickness. GP Notebook. www.gpnotebook.co.uk, accessed 29 December 2009
    Motion sickness. Fit for Travel. www.fitfortravel.scot.nhs.uk, accessed 29 December 2009
    Joint Formulary Committee British National Formulary. 58th ed. London: British Medical Association and Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain, September 2009
    Antenatal care: Routine care for the healthy pregnant woman. National Collaborating Centre for Women's and Children's Health, March 2008. NICE, www.nice.org.uk
    2009 Annual evidence update on antenatal and pregnancy care - nausea and vomiting in early pregnancy. NHS Evidence. www.library.nhs.uk, accessed 29 December 2009
    Mccracken G, Houston P, Lefebvre G. Guideline for the management of postoperative nausea and vomiting. Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada, 2008, 209. www.sogc.org
    Chaiyakunapruk N, Kitikannakorn N, Nathisuwan S, et al. The efficacy of ginger for the prevention of postoperative nausea and vomiting: a meta-analysis. Am J Obstet Gynecol 2006; 194(1):95-99

    First published by Bupa's Health Information Team, March 2010