Motion Sickness and Car Sickness

Motion sickness is a common problem in people traveling by car, train, airplanes, and especially boats. Anyone can get it, but it is more common in children, pregnant women, and people taking certain medicines. Motion sickness can start suddenly, with a queasy feeling and cold sweats. It can then lead to dizziness and nausea and vomiting.

Your brain senses movement by getting signals from your inner ears, eyes, muscles, and joints. When it gets signals that do not match, you can get motion sickness. For example, if you are reading on your phone while riding a bus, your eyes are focused on something that is not moving, but your inner ear senses motion.

Motion sickness (car sickness) isn't any fun. Symptoms such as dizziness, fatigue, nausea, headache, and sweating. Some people also experience visual effects, such as eye aches, double vision, and light sensitivity (photophobia). The eye and vision complaints are sometimes referred to as see-sick syndrome.


What Causes Motion Sickness?

Motion sickness is generally thought to be due to an imbalance between senses. The vestibular system (which is responsible for balance) tells the body it is in motion. The visual system, however, might tell the body that it appears stationary (think of reading in the car as an example). This sensory mismatch leads to classic motion sickness symptoms.

Sometimes these same sensations occur if there is an issue with either system (vestibular or visual). Inner-ear disorders may cause a person to feel like they are in motion, even when stationary, and visual disorders such as convergence insufficiency, amblyopia, and strabismus, may prevent the eyes from properly relaying vision information to the brain.

Motion Sickness Symptoms

According to a study from the Volen Center for Complex Systems, “Nausea and vomiting typically come to mind when people think of motion sickness. However, motion sickness comprises a much broader syndrome.” The typical symptoms may include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Cold sweating
  • Pallor of varying degrees
  • Increases in salivation
  • Drowsiness
  • Headache, and even severe pain
  • Vertigo and/or dizziness

How is Motion Sickness Diagnosed?

Motion sickness if often diagnosed by symptoms and patient history. An examination may include a general health examination, ear examination, and eye examination.

Ear and eye exams may include special testing, like rotation testing or vestibular reflex testing for the ear, and visual acuity, visual skills and tracking, and eye dilation for eyes.

Can You Treat Motion Sickness?

Sometimes motion sickness can be avoided by using a medication or even something as simple as avoidance of tasks that are known to cause motion sickness. Where you sit can make a difference. The front seat of a car, forward cars of a train, upper deck on a boat or wing seats in a plane may give you a smoother ride. Looking out into the distance - instead of trying to read or look at something in the vehicle - can also help.

If you are experiencing frequent bouts of motion sickness, you'll want to have a comprehensive functional eye exam to determine any underlying vision issues. Inner-ear issues and vision issues may need treatment by a specialist.

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