Summer on the go: how to deal with motion sickness

Summer, vacation time and for many even departure time. Cars, ships, trains, airplanes… in some subjects, journeys on means of transport are a serious problem due to the “motion sickness”. What does it depend on? What are its symptoms? How can it be treated? We talked about it with Dr. Roberto Teggi, specialist in Otoneurology at the San Raffaele Hospital and Professor at the UniSR Faculty of Medicine.

Dr. Teggi, is motion sickness a common disorder? How many people does it affect?

Motion sickness is a common disorder, which affects a percentage between 13% and 28% of the population; 7% of people taking a boat cruise have been reported to suffer from seasickness with nausea and vomiting. Women suffer from this disorder in a higher percentage, while children under 2 years seem to be immune.

Photo credit: ShutterStock
Photo credit: ShutterStock

What symptoms does this disorder cause?

The symptomatology is characterized by pallor, fatigue, yawns, cold sweat sometimes followed by nausea and in some cases vomiting, caused by travel by means of transport such as car or ship.

What does it depend on?

Currently, the most widespread theory is that motion sickness depends on a “sensorineural conflict”. To move in the space around us, our brain uses information from 3 sensory districts:

  • sight
  • proprioception (for example the pressure our feet put on the floor, which informs us where we are)
  • the vestibule.

This last sense organ, placed in the inner ear, is a receptor of movement, of the accelerations of our head and of the gravity to which we are subjected. Motion sickness can arise when the information between two of these sense organs are ambiguous (i.e. there is a conflict between them).

Photo credit: ShutterStock
Photo credit: ShutterStock

A typical example is that of a person who reads while sitting in the back seat of the car; in that condition, the eyes fix a static image with respect to their body (the page of the book that moves consensually to us) while the vestibule informs the brain that we are subjected to accelerations and that we are moving. For this reason it is more difficult for the car driver, whose eyes are fixed on the outside world, to suffer from motion sickness.

An analogous mechanism is that of a person subjected to accelerations on a boat, in which all the objects around us move consensually to us. There is an individual susceptibility to the disorder, more common in migraine sufferers; motion sickness in pediatric age is considered one of the precursors of migraine in adulthood.

According to many, the symptomatology that characterizes motion sickness depends on the intensity of the acceleration stimulus to which we are subjected: a sufficiently violent acceleration can cause the symptomatology in most individuals. It is probably what the pilots of military jets experience, who despite the training they are subjected to, on the first flights report nausea and/or vomiting.

What are possible treatments or remedies?

Pharmacological treatments exist to reduce the disorder, with symptomatic drugs such as calcium antagonists or dimenhydrinate (an antihistamine drug used in the form of tablets, suppositories or chewing gum). Often the sole rules of behavior can reduce annoyance; among these it is suggested to sit in the front seat and look ahead, eat limited solid foods such as crackers or bananas before or during the journey.

Photo credit: ShutterStock
Photo credit: ShutterStock

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