What causes motion sickness and what can be done about it

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People who suffer from motion sickness, also known as sea sickness, will be familiar with the feeling of impending doom every time someone in the family starts making travel plans. Severe motion sickness makes any kind of travel a torturous ordeal rather than an exciting adventure. While others are excitedly choosing which cossies to pack, motion sickness sufferers are steeling themselves to lose their lunch, accompanied by hours of sickening nausea.

So why do some people get debilitating motion sickness from a short trip in the car while others can spend hours on a roller coaster without reaching for the bucket?

What causes motion sickness?

While there’s still some mystery around the mechanics of motion sickness, it’s believed the condition is triggered when the inner ear – responsible for our sense of balance – senses motion that doesn’t correlate with bodily muscle movement. The body is being pitched about but the muscles aren’t contracting and the inner ear finds this hard to reconcile. This conflict creates dissonance for the central nervous system which somehow – researchers are still not sure how – leads to nausea and vomiting.

The dizziness felt as part of motion sickness is easier to explain. The inner ear is actually a spiralling coil filled with a fluid that modulates our sense of balance. When this fluid is continually being rocked to-and-fro it creates that familiar dizzy feeling.

Researchers used to think that our sight also had a role to play in motion sickness, and that focussing on the horizon helps; however this theory has been debunked for one simple reason – blind people get sea sick too.

Natural ways to alleviate motion sickness

Following are a few simple and natural things you can try that might offer some relief for motion sickness:

  • Ginger root: Women who’ve suffered from morning sickness during pregnancy know that chewing ginger or drinking strong ginger tea provides temporary relief from nausea, and anecdotal evidence suggests it also works for mild cases of motion sickness.
  • Peppermint Essential Oil: Taking regular sniffs of peppermint oil from a small bottle has been known to provide relief from symptoms of motion sickness. Peppermint oil has even been used in hospitals to reduce nausea in patients.
  • Chewing: We’re not sure why, but chewing gum or small dry snacks, seems to provide some relief from the nausea associated with motion sickness. It may be that chewing simply keeps the stomach busy producing acids needed for digestion.
  • Keep your head up:  When you look down to read or use a digital device it makes the pitching of fluids in the inner ear even more confused and increases dizziness and nausea. Keep your head up, look forward to the horizon, and try to minimise head movement (such as turning around to scold children in the back seat.)

Medications to help with motion sickness

It’s worth trying natural remedies first however some people’s motion sickness may be unrelenting  and require medication to provide lasting relief.

There are a number of medications on the market that work to either numb nerve activity in the inner ear or target the stomach to reduce the feeling of nausea. Most have some form of antihistamine which works to ‘still’ the body and reduce inner ear disturbance, however antihistamines often cause drowsiness. To counteract this sedative effect, many medications also include caffeine to give the pill-taker some extra pep.

For many people, the motion sickness tablets available at their regular chemist are either not effective or trigger unwanted side effects such as extreme drowsiness and increased heart rate. And some medications can contain ingredients that trigger allergies in sensitive people.

If commercial motion sickness tablets are problematic for you, talk to your doctor about a prescription for a compounded medication that contains only the ingredients that agree with you, in the right ratios to meet your individual needs. A reputable compounding pharmacy like us can then make up your personalised medication and help stop motion sickness becoming a hand brake on your quality of life.

Note from National Custom Compounding: For more details on motion sickness medication made from scratch to suit your body’s unique individual needs visit our Sea Sickness page or contact National Custom Compounding on 1300 731 755 or email [email protected]

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