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Monday Medical: Motion sickness must-knows


Susan Cunningham
For Steamboat Pilot & Today

You probably know the feeling: you’re riding in a car or on a boat, and all of a sudden, a wave of queasiness washes over you.

Motion sickness can make road trips, boat rides and trips to the amusement park miserable. But why does it happen? And is there anything you can do about it?

Below, Dr. Michelle Jimerson, a family medicine physician in Steamboat Springs and a member of the medical staff at UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center, outlines what you need to know about motion sickness.

Why does it happen?

Motion sickness can strike any time you’re moving or think you’re moving. Riding in a car or on a plane or watching a movie that gives you the sensation of moving are all prime grounds for motion sickness.

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The condition is not new — it’s been described over history, including by the Greek physician Hippocrates. In fact, the word “nausea” is rooted in the Greek word “naus,” which means “ship.”

And while scientists don’t know everything that contributes to it, they know that motion sickness comes on when your sensory organs — your eyes, muscles and inner ears — experience a conflict.

“It happens when there’s a disconnect between the systems that help us feel where we are in space,” Jimerson said. “For instance, if you’re sitting in a moving boat, what you feel may not match what you see.”

What are the symptoms?

Nausea, headache, dizziness, feeling warm and sweaty and increased salivation can all be symptoms of motion sickness. Some people may also feel tired.

Motion sickness can affect almost anyone. It’s reported to be more common in women, especially during pregnancy, as well as in children older than 2. People who experience migraines may be more prone to it. Motion sickness may also run in families.

Can it be prevented?

If you’re moving on a boat or in a car, look at the horizon or at something stationary. Face forward and sit in the part of the vehicle that has the least amount of motion. Don’t read or look at screens.

When in a car, choose to drive — being in control helps.

“Prevention works better than treating motion sickness once you’re already sick,” Jimerson said. “If you know you’re prone to motion sickness and will be in a situation that may cause your symptoms, consider trying some prevention strategies.”

Are there remedies and medications?

Taking ginger or using an acupressure wristband may help some individuals. “The data isn’t clear, but it doesn’t hurt,” Jimerson said.

A physical therapist may be able to help through vestibular physical therapy, which can recalibrate the sensory system that provides information on spatial orientation and motion.

Medications are an option but can make you drowsy. “You have to decide going into it how awake and alert you need to be,” Jimerson said.

Dramamine (dimenhydrinate) is probably the most common treatment but causes drowsiness. A less sedating medication is Bonine (meclizine), which is available over the counter or with a prescription. Benadryl (diphenhydramine) may also help.

The prescription medication Scopolamine is administered through a patch worn behind the ear and lasts for three days. It can be especially helpful for people going on a cruise.

“If you have a history of motion sickness or are worried about it, see your doctor if you’re going on a cruise or doing something where motion sickness might be an issue,” Jimerson said. “If you’ve never had motion sickness before, we might suggest you bring Bonine. If you always get sick, we can discuss the patch.”

And remember that it doesn’t last forever.

“Motion sickness isn’t dangerous, but it certainly can ruin a vacation,” Jimerson said. “It’s something that nobody wants to feel.”

Susan Cunningham writes for UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center. She can be reached at cunninghamsbc@gmail.com.


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