Travel sickness self-care

General Information

Travel or motion sickness may occur in any type of moving vehicle, such as a car, boat or plane.

It may be due to either an over-stimulation of the balance mechanisms located within the inner ear, or to a temporary inability of the brain to process conflicting information arising from the various sensory systems monitoring balance within the body.

The sensory systems involved are:

  • inner ears, which monitor the direction of motion
  • eyes, which monitor where the body is and the direction of motion
  • skin pressure sensors, which monitor what parts of the body are touching the ground
  • muscles and joint sensors, which monitor what parts of the body are moving

For example, in a boat tossed about by waves, your ears and skin detect that you are moving, but your eyes are focused on the cabin wall. Signals from your inner ears, skin, and eyes are in conflict, and this is what makes you feel sea-sick.

Children aged 2 to 12 years are more likely to have travel sickness than adults and younger children. Women are more susceptible to travel sickness than men; this may be related to hormonal changes during pregnancy and menstruation.

Having a stomach filled with fatty, spicy food and fizzy or alcoholic drinks can make someone more likely to feel sick during travel. Feeling anxious, tired or unwell can also increase the risk of travel sickness. Some people develop a conditioned response, so that even just sitting in a car can make them feel sick.

Once the person with travel sickness has vomited, they normally feel better, although symptoms may return and become more severe. After a few days of exposure to the motion, such as on a boat, people will adapt. Symptoms of travel sickness can settle down and even disappear.

Travel sickness tends to improve once you reach your destination; however, it may take a few hours or days to improve completely, as you will need to re-adapt to the lack of movement once motion stops.

Symptoms of travel sickness

  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • yawning
  • hyperventilating (rapid, deep breathing) 
  • looking pale
  • sweating
  • producing more saliva than normal

See Your Pharmacist or Medical Professional

  • if you have stomach discomfort, nausea or vomiting – especially if these symptoms persist after travel is completed
  • if you have become pale, especially in the face
  • if you are sweating, or feeling hot
  • if you have goose pimples and are feeling cold
  • if you feel dizzy, faint or have an ear infection or ear pain
  • if you feel sick when you move your head
  • if the person with travel sickness is a child, and they have become quiet and withdrawn
  • if you have severe anxiety associated with travel, such as fear of flying, which may require specialist counselling
  • if your symptoms have become worse over time
  • if you are pregnant or breastfeeding; some products may not be suitable for you (ask your pharmacist)
  • if you have other medical conditions (e.g. glaucoma, epilepsy or heart disease), or take other medicines, such as for depression; some products may not be suitable for you (ask your pharmacist)
  • if you have problems urinating or prostate problems; some products may not be suitable for you (ask your pharmacist)
  • if you have allergies to any medicines

Treatment Tips

  • the best way to treat travel sickness is to prevent it
  • avoid heavy, fatty and spicy meals and alcohol before travelling
  • a light, simple meal about one hour before travel is best. Glucose, such as lollies or lemonade and biscuits, are useful snacks
  • peppermint or ginger taken an hour before travel may help
  • stay calm and relaxed before travel and, if possible, stop for breaks during the trip
  • sit in the most stable area to keep motion at a minimum, such as over an aeroplane wing, in the front seat of a car, or on a ship’s deck
  • sit facing in the direction you are travelling, so that a distant, stable reference point can be seen, such as the road ahead or the horizon
  • lie down (if possible), use a head support and close your eyes to reduce head movement
  • avoid activities, such as reading, that encourage looking down and require close visual concentration
  • listen to music or do something to distract you
  • get plenty of fresh air if possible (open personal air vents on planes) 

Treatment Options

  • medicines are more effective if you use them to prevent travel sickness. They can be taken from 30 minutes to 2 hours before travel. Some can be taken up to 5 to 6 hours before travel, or the night before
  • some preparations are not suitable for children; check manufacturer’s directions Currently, sedating antihistamines require a prescription for children under the age of 2
  • side effects of medicines for travel sickness may include drowsiness, blurred vision, dry mouth, constipation and confusion; stop taking the medicine if you experience any of these
  • do not drink alcohol with medicines that make you drowsy
  • young children and elderly people are more sensitive to side effects of medicines. Rarely, some travel sickness medicines cause children to become over-excited; stop using the medicine if this happens

[PHARMACY ONLY]
e.g. hyoscine hydrobromide (Kwells, Travacalm HO)

  • make sure the correct dose is used according to the age of the person (check product instructions)
  • hyoscine hydrobromide has a shorter duration of action therefore recommended for shorter journeys
  • this medication may cause drowsiness

Antihistamines

[PHARMACIST ONLY]
e.g. promethazine hydrochloride (Phenergan), promethazine theoclate (Avomine), pheniramine (Avil)

  • make sure the correct dose is used according to the age of the person (check product instructions)
  • promethazine needs to be taken 1 to 2 hours prior to travel and is useful for longer travel times
  • this medication will cause drowsiness

Combination products

[PHARMACY ONLY]
e.g. hyoscine hydrobromide, dimenhydrinate, caffeine (Travacalm Original)

Acupressure wrist bands

[GENERAL SALE]
e.g. Sea-Band

  • these bands are placed on acupressure points on your wrists to help reduce feelings of nausea related to travel
  • there have been reports of success; however, this depends on correctly placing the bands
  • they can be used by people of all ages and during pregnancy

Other products

[GENERAL SALE]
e.g.ginger (Travacalm Natural)

  • does not cause drowsiness and is a more suitable option in pregnancy at the recommended dose

More Information

Availability of medicines

  • GENERAL SALE available through pharmacies and possibly other retail outlets.
  • PHARMACY ONLY available for sale through pharmacies only.
  • PHARMACIST ONLY may only be sold by a pharmacist.

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Last Reviewed: 8 February 2010
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