Treatments & Therapies

Recognize and treat travel sickness – encyclopedia for medicine and health

Identify and treat travel sickness

Like a dark shadow, the thought of the possibility of seasickness clouds the joy of a cruise or a ship trip for many people, and the fear of the fear of flying or airsickness makes some people forego a flight and prefer to travel by train or car, although here too Similar well-being disorders are possible, only that they are generally less feared than seasickness and the fear of flying (or airsickness). More and more people come to their doctor these days with questions about the nature and prevention of such disorders.

Common causes of motion sickness

All disorders of well-being that occur when traveling – whether seasickness, airsickness, train sickness or car sickness – go back to a special form of movement impulses that are imposed on the organism by the vehicle. The means of transport, for its part, absorbs these movements from the road, from the rail, from the water or from the atmosphere.

From this it can be seen that combating the so-called motion sickness also has a technical side, and it cannot be ruled out that the technical improvement of means of transport could also have a beneficial effect here. Since these travel diseases are caused by movement stimuli, they have been given the name “kinetoses” – derived from the Greek word “kinein” = to move.

Organic Causes

These movement stimuli emanating from the vehicle are diverse in their physical nature and lead to a more or less strong irritation of the organ of balance, also known as the vestibular apparatus. This is located in the area of ​​the inner ear and consists of the sac (sacculus) and the semicircular canals. The first contains the well-known stones (otoliths), which stimulate certain sensory organs by means of pressure or tension and thus indicate changes in position.

So they convey the perception of the position of the head in space and linear movements, for example upwards and downwards movements. The function of the semicircular canals causes the perception of rotary movements. They are semi-circular canals that are perpendicular to each other and are filled with a fluid called endolymph. In the case of rapid movements, this liquid initially lags behind the wall because of its inertia; the fluid is shifted and the nerve endings there are stimulated differently.

This excitation of the nervous parts of the vestibular organ is then finally passed on to the brain via the eighth cranial nerve (Nervus statoacusticus). The spatial changes that occur in stormy seas, swaying airplanes and vibrating trains, which we cannot compensate for, force the nerve endings of the vestibular system to absorb stimuli and transmit them to the brain that go far beyond the normal range.

This in turn causes an inhibition of the highest sections of the brain, which in this way protect themselves against overload, so to speak. The excitation impulses that are sent to the vestibular system but are not absorbed are diverted to regions of the diencephalon. This is where a focus of excitement develops, which becomes the center of vomiting when it triggers nausea and vomiting, i.e. when it conducts its electrical charge to the nerves and organs connected during vomiting.

Symptoms & Signs

The first sign of the onset of motion sickness is often the outbreak of cold sweat or sweating . Other complaints soon follow: fatigue , loss of appetite , dizziness , gastrointestinal complaints , diarrhea , increased salivation, headaches and nausea .

Eventually nausea and vomiting occur . The “feeling of annihilation” that often sets in more or less clearly when seasickness is fully developed, that numerous brain nerve cells are an expression of the inhibition of overloading, will probably remain in the unpleasant memory of many sea travelers for a long time to come.

Cardiovascular disorders are also known. They can be detected with suitable measuring devices such as blood pressure or ECG devices. Breathing behaves differently; occasionally a deepening and acceleration of breathing can be seen ( hyperventilation ). Certain changes in the blood have also been described.

All of these changes characterize the influence of large areas of the central nervous system by the nerve impulses radiating from the vestibular system.

The order in which these symptoms appear, as well as their relative frequency and severity, vary from person to person. Apart from the pallor of the skin , the most important objective sign of seasickness is vomiting .

In the fully developed state, locomotor insufficiency occurs, which makes it practically impossible for the affected person to walk around upright.

History & Causes

How quickly airsickness or seasickness can develop, for example, depends on various circumstances. The type and duration of the aircraft or ship movement play a major role. According to some studies, the critical limit for aircraft is a flight duration of around 2 ½ hours, while seasickness can be caused earlier under certain conditions.

Of course, physical and mental factors are just as important. Just the fear of getting seasick can make it appear. The sight of seasick fellow travelers or the smell of vomit can trigger seasickness in those who have been spared up to that point. Under no circumstances should travel sickness be regarded as an expression of an abnormal mental disorder.


Seasickness is the best known and most common form of motion sickness. It has been known for as long as people have ventured out to sea in a ship. Quite precise descriptions are already available from classical antiquity. Their frequency is sometimes given quite differently. Some doctors estimate that 95 percent of all people can get seasick, while others only speak of about 40 percent. On large cruises, the frequency is in the range of a few percent, while on smaller, less favorably designed ships it increases to almost 100 percent.Every seafarer knows that one can largely get used to the movements of a ship without getting seasick. But this habit is lost again after a longer stay in the country. Experience has also shown that mental activity and attempts at distraction are hardly able to prevent seasickness from occurring.

Airsickness or flight sickness

Airsickness (not fear of flying ) shows a similarly wide range of frequency as seasickness, with the influence of atmospheric turbulence, the type of aircraft and, above all, the duration of the flight playing an unmistakable role. Modern pressurized aircraft generally fly at higher altitudes where atmospheric turbulence decreases noticeably, making illness less likely than flying at lower altitudes.

The training effect can also be seen in air sickness. Studies carried out in a flying school showed that more than 10 percent of all trainee pilots became airsick on the first flight, but only about 1 to 2 percent after the tenth flight. A longer flight duration favors the outbreak of airsickness. Here, however, mental activity and distraction are able to delay or even avoid the onset of airsickness, which is why almost all airlines today offer their passengers films and music for entertainment and distraction.

Travel sickness on bus trips, train trips & in the car

Other forms of motion sickness, such as those found in cars, buses, trains, but also in amusement devices such as swings, bicycles, etc., have been described many times.

Some researchers expect the incidence of illness to be around 4 percent on trains and buses. When it comes to cars, travel sickness complaints are often confused with what is known as car sickness, which is caused by inhaling combustion products from the engine and is undoubtedly more dangerous.

The question of how best to protect yourself from motion sickness is difficult to answer. Despite lengthy experiments, it has not yet been possible to find a drug that will definitely help in all cases. In not a few cases, a favorable effect of meclozine and vitamin B6 preparations has been described, so that an attempt with such drugs is entirely justified. Nevertheless, some of these remedies can also cause unpleasant side effects, so that if you travel, you should first consult your doctor about this.

Prevent & treat seasickness & motion sickness

The consumption of coffee , alcohol or cigarettes before and during a trip is rated differently. You will hardly have a fundamental success with it. We know from studies that seasickness does not occur at all when lying on your back or can be reduced quickly. Military research has confirmed that supine seasickness was rare.

However, if you let your head hang in a supine position, almost 70 percent of the marines became seasick. Seasickness occurred in 60 percent of sedentary people. But as soon as they bend their heads backwards, the seasickness stopped.

From this it can be concluded that the posture of the head, but not the posture, is important for the development of motion sickness.

As a result of these events, seasickness could be reduced or partially prevented by lying on your back. So it’s the head position that counts, not the body position. The same applies to air sickness, so it is advisable to convert the seats to loungers on long flights.

Self Treatment & Techniques

In addition to all of these measures, it is largely up to the individual – especially when flying – whether he survives them well. Following a law of nerve activity that every excitation of a brain area is inhibited by the stronger excitation of a neighboring brain section, you have to try to build up such a strong excitation field yourself – i.e. actively.Breathing is suitable for this, especially since it uses almost the same organs and nerves as vomiting. By breathing consciously and quickly – if possible involving the diaphragm and abdominal muscles – the excitement of the vomiting center cannot occur and airsickness is prevented. In the case of seasickness, this method fails because the journey usually takes so long that conscious breathing cannot be maintained.

How important this prevention of travel sickness, which is related to nervous activity, is, is shown by the fact that when driving a car, the driver himself practically never falls ill, the passenger next to him rarely, but most often the rear passengers.

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Hello! I am Lisa Newlon, and I am a medical writer and researcher with over 10 years of experience in the healthcare industry. I have a Master’s degree in Medicine, and my deep understanding of medical terminology, practices, and procedures has made me a trusted source of information in the medical world.