Man in car with Car Sickness

The ultimate guide to conquering car sickness

Laughing in the face of nausea

Story by Gregory P. Thomas + Illustration by Charles Grace

Ah, car sickness — the universal reminder that roller coasters aren’t the only rides that can make you hurl. For many of us the mere mention of a long car journey brings back haunting memories of staring at the horizon, frantically rolling down windows and strategically positioning plastic bags. But fret not. This article explains the science behind this pesky travel companion and provides the best ways of coping with it.

What’s behind the sway and swirl?

While you might feel like your stomach is trying to master the cha-cha every time you’re in a moving car, the real culprits are your inner ears. These tiny organs are constantly sending signals to your brain about the body’s position and motion. In a car your ears are shouting, “Woohoo! We’re moving,” while your eyes, looking at the static interior, calmly respond with, “Chill out, we’re just sitting here.” This confusion between what we see and what we feel is often what triggers nausea. It’s like your body’s version of a sibling quarrel — neither side will admit they’re wrong. 

arm pain driver So he parked the car and squeezed the massage. on the side of the road

Tried-and-true remedies

Ginger: An oldie but goodie, ginger can help soothe the stomach. Plus with so many ginger snacks available, you can pretend you’re just indulging your sweet tooth. 

Staring at the horizon: This method can help sync what your eyes see and what your ears feel, plus it gives you a chance to work on your “deep and thoughtful” look. Double win!

Pressure points: Pressing or massaging the inner wrists can help some folks. It’s like giving your body a mini pep-talk: “Come on body, we’ve got this!”

Distraction: Sing along to the radio, play “I spy,” or ponder life’s big questions like, “Why did the chicken really cross the road?”

Over-the-counter medications

Dramamine: Perhaps the most widely known, Dramamine helps prevent and treat symptoms of motion sickness such as nausea, vomiting and dizziness. It’s usually taken 30 minutes to one hour before traveling.

Bonine: Similar to Dramamine, it’s used to prevent and treat nausea, vomiting and dizziness. Some people prefer it because it may cause less drowsiness.

Sea-Band: Not a medication per se, it’s a wristband that applies pressure on the Nei-Kuan acupressure point on each wrist using a plastic stud. Some users find relief from nausea and vomiting through this method.

Two pills in the hand or on the palm of the driver against a blurred background of the steering wheel in the car. The use of pharmacological drugs for medical purposes while driving. Selective focus

Prescription medications

Scopolamine: This is a patch you place behind your ear about four hours before you think you’ll need it. It can prevent nausea and vomiting for up to three days. While effective, it can have side effects such as dry mouth and blurred vision.

Promethazine: Often used to treat motion sickness, it’s typically taken 30-60 minutes before traveling and can cause significant drowsiness. It’s also used for general nausea and post-operative nausea and vomiting.

Metoclopramide: This drug works by blocking dopamine
in the brain, and it’s sometimes prescribed for motion sickness as well as gastroparesis and post-operative nausea and vomiting.

Travel tips

If you’re trying to avoid or manage car sickness, here’s a checklist to follow:

Seat selection: Sit in the front seat if possible. The view from the front is more stable and consistent. If you’re in the back, try to sit in the middle for a clearer view out of the front windshield.

Direction of travel: Always face forward. Looking sideways while the car is moving forward can cause dizziness and nausea.

Ventilation: Ensure that there is a constant supply of fresh air. Avoid strong car fresheners or other strong scents.

Avoid reading: Reading can worsen motion sickness for many people. If you need to read, take frequent breaks to look up and out of the window.

Limit food intake: Don’t travel on an empty stomach. However, avoid heavy, spicy or fatty meals just before or during travel. Small, light snacks can help. 

Stay hydrated: Drink plenty of water. Avoid alcohol or other dehydrating beverages.

Limit head movement: Use a neck pillow if necessary.

Take breaks: On long journeys schedule regular stops to get out, stretch and get some fresh air.

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