By Paul Williams
For many people, especially pre-teens, an extended car journey is no fun at all. According to Health Canada, motion sickness (or getting “car sick”) peaks among those between the ages of three and twelve, and it affects 58 per cent of children.
Many adults continue to experience the symptoms, although they decline as people get older. Females are more susceptible than males regardless of age.
And it’s not just cars that cause motion sickness. Boats are worse, followed by planes, cars, and trains. If you’re planning a trip this summer, it’s something to think about.
The symptoms of motion sickness occur in a predictable sequence. Typically it starts with a stomach-ache, then the face becomes pale and starts to sweat; light-headedness kicks in, then sometimes depression, and nausea.
Unfortunately, there’s more. Hyperventilation, panic, confusion, excessive yawning, headache and lethargy are common.
Suffice it to say that a lot of people would rather just stay home.
Motion sickness is caused by mismatch of information from your eyes and your ears. Basically, your brain gets muddled. It’s your inner ear that regulates balance, and when you get contradictory signals it becomes disorienting, often causing nausea.
Car sickness is not a new thing, even though cars may be newer than most methods of transportation. The word “nausea” comes from the ancient Greek word “naus” which means ship. Sailors knew about this a long time ago.
Oddly, you don’t even have to be moving to experience motion sickness. In fact, purely visual stimuli from video games or watching a movie — even looking at a slide under a microscope — can create the symptoms.
However, it’s cars we’re talking about, and short of waiting for little Kyle or Courtney to finish puberty, what can you do?
There are several remedies, and the first one is the most obvious: stop the car. Closing one’s eyes may help for a while, but if the symptoms are serious, you really need to stop “right now” to provide relief.
Another remedy is to try and reconcile those conflicting messages between the eye and the ear. Doctors recommend focusing your attention on a fixed point on the horizon, which may put some stability back into a topsy-turvy environment. For some this is effective.
There is a range of drugs available to treat motion sickness. According to Health Canada, dimenhydrinate (available under various trade names, including Gravol) has long been considered a treatment of choice.
This medication can be purchased over the counter and is available in formulations for adults, teens and young children. For persons susceptible to motion sickness, it should be taken shortly before the journey begins. Once the symptoms begin, taking medication is less likely to have an effect.
Another over-the-counter medication is meclizine (trade name Bonamine). Health Canada says children can use it, but the Bonamine packaging says not if they’re under 12.
For adults with intense reactions to travel, a scopolamine patch can be effective. This is a patch that’s applied behind the ear, where it stays for up to 72 hours. Scopolamine can only be acquired with a doctor’s prescription.
Other drugs have shown effectiveness in preventing motion sickness, but according to Health Canada, there is no one standard approach that works on everyone, so if one medication doesn’t work, another may.
In addition, the herbal remedy ginger root is often mentioned in literature discussing motion sickness, although a controlled study found no anti motion-sickness effect.
Speaking of alternative remedies, there’s also acupressure. This is a therapy whereby pressure is applied to certain parts of the body with a view to treating particular symptoms. A product that’s attracted a lot of attention is a motion-sickness band that you wear around each wrist (these are widely advertised and sold). The knitted elastic bands have a plastic button embedded in them which presses against an acupuncture point in your wrist, and supposedly relieves or prevents motion sickness, along with other types of nausea.
For many, this is an appealing therapy, because there are no drugs or possible side effects. The problem is that two scientific studies found an example of these bands had no effect on motion sickness. A further study found that continued and vigorous manual stimulation of the acupuncture point was required to achieve a significant benefit.
One thing to know about motion sickness is that it’s associated with forward motion combined with up-and-down motion. This is why seasickness affects so many people. Unfortunately, the ocean is the ideal environment to make you sick. You’re going forward, but also up and down over the waves.
And have you ridden a camel lately? (ships of the desert, you know). It’s the same thing.
Consequently, if you’re susceptible to car sickness, sit in the front seat, where there’s less vertical motion. Or if you’re on a bus, don’t sit at the back. On a plane or a boat? Sit in the middle.
Also, avoid eating for three hours before you leave and avoid dairy products before a journey. Fresh air helps, too (try opening a window). Don’t read or watch videos in the car.
While you may be wary of drugs, some of them are genuinely effective. Consult your physician or pharmacist for advice.
By the way, the driver of the vehicle is much less likely to get car sick. While it may sound illogical, if you’re a passenger and you’re getting car sick, try getting behind the wheel.
And trust me — stay away from camels.