How to Deal with Car Sickness

Wednesday, 30 July 2014


Whether you're enjoying a staycation or visiting relatives, car sickness can turn what should’ve been a fun trip into an uncomfortable slog. Fortunately, it's simple to prevent, or at the very least control.

What Can Cause Car Sickness?

The scientific consensus right now is that car sickness is caused by a conflict between your senses. In a moving car, your eyes see you're moving fast, but your skin and vestibular system (inner ear) can’t feel it. This confuses your brain, which signals to your digestive system in case you've somehow ingested a hallucinogenic poison that's affecting your nervous system. Whilst it's nice to know that precaution is there, it also makes you feel really nauseous.

There are three main ways of dealing with car sickness: medicating against that message, calming the symptoms of nausea, or controlling how your senses interact.

Preventative medicine

There are two kinds of medicine that fight car sickness:

Hyoscine - sometimes called scopolamine, this blocks some of the nerve signals sent from the inner ear. You can get it over the counter from pharmacies in pills and patches, and you must take it before travelling. Some people do experience side effects, including drowsiness and blurred vision, so it’s wise to try out hyoscine for the first time when you’re in the passenger seat
Antihistamines - these have fewer side effects, but they only reduce nausea and vomiting and don't deal with the root causes. And like hyoscine, they can make you a little drowsy, so this is similarly not one to test drive behind the wheel

Alternative medicine

Lots of people find alternative solutions helpful, although they aren’t scientifically proven to work. These include:

Acupressure wrist bands, which press a small ball onto a 'pressure point' just above the wrist. You could also try pushing on this spot yourself - at least it's a distraction
Eat anything with ginger in it; the zingy root has had some success in managing seasickness and nausea
Peppermint is thought to be equally good at calming the digestive system, so some strong mints or minty gum are a refreshing option

Pre-trip precautions

As well as actively trying to combat motion sickness, it's worth avoiding anything that shakes up your digestive system, which could include:

Big meals and fatty or spicy foods
Acidic food/drink, such as orange juice

Coping in the car

If you want to go down the DIY route, you could try the following:

Keep a steady posture. Research by the University of Minnesota suggests that a stable, upright position can reduce the bouncing that comes with car travel, and calm your symptoms
Open a window. The breeze will send signals from your skin to your brain saying that everything’s fine, and you are actually moving quickly
Look ahead, or focus on a point on the horizon. Like an open window, the horizon is a reassuring sign to your brain that you're not losing it
Take regular breaks, particularly if you're the driver
Close your eyes and relax. Shutting out the movement is the last resort for a confused brain
And if all else fails, have a sick bag handy. It’s better to be safe than sticky



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