The Science Behind Travel Sickness (and how to avoid it)

Bumps, tight corners and long winding roads, just thinking about it can make you feel queasy. Travel sickness is something almost everyone will experience at least once during their life, and it’s safe to say it certainly isn’t pleasant.

Here at Euro Car Parts, our recent research discovered that over half (54%) of Brits suffer from motion sickness often. An unpleasant way to start or end any journey, we’ve spoken to GP and author Dr Sarah Brewer to uncover what exactly travel sickness it, and how to prevent it.

What is travel sickness?

While most associate travel sickness solely with car journeys, any form of transport can trigger the illness. In fact, Dr Sarah Brewer explains, motion sickness occurs whenever motion-detecting cells in your inner ears experience excessive stimulation, sending messages to your brain which don’t match the degree of movement detected by the eyes.

She continues to highlight that motion sickness is “especially likely when travelling in a closed space such as a car, where you tend to focus on objects inside the vehicle. Your eyes tell your brain the environment is stationary, but your balance organs say it is not. If there is good visual evidence of the head’s position – as in cycling or skiing for example – motion does not usually trigger travel sickness.”

Nobody is completely immune to travel sickness, but some people are more prone to it than others. We were curious to learn why, and Dr Brewer informed us that it may be related to the degree of symmetry between each individual’s right and left inner ears. Children aged ten and above tend to be very susceptible, while younger children rarely suffer from car sickness as their nerve pathways have not yet developed fully.

As for the symptoms of travel sickness, the most frequently experienced by our survey participants were nausea (66%), vomiting (31%) and dizziness and generally feeling unwell (both 30%). Other symptoms vary, from sweating, pallor (appearing pale), headaches and general discomfort.

Preventing travel sickness

Preventing travel sickness is much more effective than attempting to treat symptoms once they’re in full swing. Keep the queasiness at bay, by following the guidance offered by Dr Sarah Brewer below.

Use the right medication
Preventing travel sickness is easier than curing it once it’s started. Taking medication before your journey can help to prevent travel sickness symptoms from developing. Dr Sarah Brewer recommends an antihistamine called cinnarizine, which should be consumed “2 hours before your journey.” Susceptibility to motion sickness should be reduced for at least 8 hours.

“If you are already feeling sick, however,” Dr Brewer advises, “you can suck a tablet rather than swallowing it for a more rapid effect.”

For those who prefer a more natural option, she suggests “ginger tablets or wearing acupressure bands on your wrists”.

Eat right
Travelling on an empty stomach can make car motion sickness worse, so make sure to eat a light meal 45 to 60 minutes before you embark on your travels. If you’re off on a particularly long journey, Dr Brewer pack some snacks that are low in fat and acid. It’s all too tempting to stop off at a service station and enjoy the quick and easy fast food, but greasy, fatty foods are known to cause nausea or worsen travel sickness. Spicy foods too can upset travellers.

It’s also best to avoid drinking alcohol, as this will cause dehydration and act as a diuretic – adding to those feelings of discomfort.

Choose the right seat
With almost two fifths of the population (39%) revealing they’re most likely to experience sickness when travelling backwards, and just under one third (31%) noting symptoms such as nausea and dizziness when sitting in the back seat of a car, where you position yourself on your journey can have a huge effect on how well you feel.

If possible, offer to drive. Drivers are less likely to suffer from motion sickness as their focus is firmly fixed outside on the road ahead, rather than objects close by. Of course, as Dr Sarah Brewer rightly points out, if you are driving make sure you don’t take any sedating travel sickness medication.

Passengers prone to seasickness should sit in the front whenever they can. As for children, use a car seat where necessary so they can look out of the window.

For flights, choose the sit in the area over wings. If you’re travelling on a bus or coach, sitting down on a seat between the wheels is best – here, movement is likely to be decreased.

Embrace fresh air
Stuffy, hot conditions can make travel sickness worse, so open windows whenever you can. With fresh air circulating, your symptoms will be reduced at the very least.

Petrol fumes and strong scents like perfume or pungent food, are likely to make you feel worse. Like we’ve said above, avoid eating smelly snacks and try to keep the vehicle as neutral as possible.

Avoid reading
In our survey, reading came out on top as the factor most likely to trigger travel sickness. Focusing on any object up close while travelling has been known to cause nausea, whether it’s reading a book, analysing a map or staring at a smartphone screen.

Instead of looking down, keep your gaze fixed on the horizon. To prevent younger children from getting bored on the journey, why not download an e-Book or podcast instead?

Stretch your legs
Don’t stay seated throughout the entire journey – plan breaks along the way so you can get up and stretch your legs. As a bonus, you’ll even get some fresh air at the same time.

Wherever you’re travelling to next, don’t let travel sickness get in the way. Thanks to the tops tips from Dr Sarah Brewer, you’ll be able to reduce your symptoms and enjoy your journey. For more car related news, don’t forget to check out the rest of the posts on the Euro Car Parts blog.