Tips for stopping motion sickness after it starts — and how to avoid it in the first place

A man sitting on a boat with his eyes closed, holding his hand up to his head and looking distressed.
I'm on a boat — and feeling nauseous. Experts share tips for getting rid of motion sickness. (Getty Images)

The trees blur past the car window, or the waves roll under the boat, and suddenly, you start to feel nauseous. The feeling builds in your stomach, your breathing speeds up and you may become dizzy, sweaty or irritable. You may even throw up. Why? You are experiencing motion sickness, a common condition that will impact almost everyone at some point in their life.

If your summer plans involve boats, road trips or roller coasters, you'll want to get to the bottom of what's fueling that sickly feeling and what you can do to get over it (or avoid it in the first place). Here's what experts say.

“In the simplest terms motion sickness is a form of dizziness,” Dr. Natascha Tuznik, associate clinical professor of infectious diseases at University of California, Davis Health, tells Yahoo Life. “Motion sickness occurs when the input that we are receiving is mixed or in conflict with what our body is actually doing.”

A situation in which your body is not moving, but your brain is sensing movement — riding on a car, boat, plane, train, roller coaster or elevator, wearing a virtual reality headset or even snorkeling in the ocean on a choppy day — can cause motion sickness.

For example, when you are on a boat, your body is sitting still, but your brain may think it’s moving because the messages your eyes, inner ear (vestibular system) and nerves (somatosensory system) are sending are in conflict. As objects like another boat or lighthouse pass, your eyes detect motion and send a signal to your brain that you’re moving. Simultaneously, your inner ear and somatosensory system tell your brain that you are sitting still. Your brain has trouble processing the different inputs, so you begin to feel sick.

Typically, “the worst of it happens when there are changes in the motion,” Dr. Julia Adamian, a clinical professor in the department of medicine at NYU Grossman School of Medicine, tells Yahoo Life. “For example, if you’re traveling by plane, it mostly happens during the ascent and descent because of the change of the pressure and those movements.”

“Almost everyone in their lifetime has or will experience motion sickness to some degree,” Tuznik says. However, some people experience worse motion sickness than others, and the reason for this is still unclear. But while doctors can’t predict who will experience motion sickness or when, there are some factors that make it more likely.

Generally, women are more likely to experience motion sickness then men, and children tend to have it more than adults. “Children under the age of 2 are typically resistant, but between 2 and 9 they are much more prone because their inner ear canals are still developing,” Tuznik says. People who experience migraine attacks are also more likely to experience motion sickness.

Acute changes in people’s health can also impact their likelihood of experiencing motion sickness, says Adamian. For example, hormonal fluctuations — such as periods, pregnancy or perimenopause — can make motion sickness worse. A history of recent sinus infections or colds can also make someone more prone to experience motion sickness because their inner ear could be temporarily impacted.

Even one’s mindset may impact an individual’s chances of experiencing motion sickness, says Tuznik. Say riding a roller coaster previously made you motion sick and you're about to do it again. You may go into the experience preparing to be motion sick, and that may make it more likely that you once again feel ill.

Whether motion sickness improves over time can vary greatly among individuals. “Some find their symptoms may improve over time, but others’ [symptoms] gets worse,” Tuznik says. There is no way to predict which will happen.

The one exception to this general rule is migraine sufferers, Adamian adds. “Sometimes with age, migraines get better, and if the migraine gets better, motion sickness can get better.”

There are things you can do to lessen the chance of experiencing motion sickness or to ease your symptoms after they begin. Here’s what experts say.

  • Hydrate and eat something small. “Dehydration and hunger can either augment the effect of something like motion sickness or make it more likely to occur,” Tuznik says. Also, while there’s no evidence to suggest that any specific food, including peanuts, can cure motion sickness, Adamian advises that you eat a small meal to fill your stomach.

  • Pick your seat carefully. Sit in the front passenger seat of a car, next to the wing on an airplane, forward-facing on a train or on the lower level of a ship to avoid seats with greater motion, Tuznik suggests.

  • Try acupressure bands. These press on the P6 acupressure point. “Non-Western medicine has been found to be helpful for some people when it comes to reducing nausea,” Tuznik says. She adds that while there's no research supporting claims that motion sickness glasses featured on TikTok truly help, they could be worth trying given that they’re relatively inexpensive.

  • Avoid known triggers like reading or using your phone. Tuznik tells people to avoid reading or staring at a stationary object like their cellphone while in transit, because it facilitates the mismatch between one’s still body and the motion of moving.

  • Suck on ginger candy. Adamian encourages patients to suck on a hard ginger candy before and during travel, because it has been proven to help with motion sickness.

  • Focus on the horizon. It can help to focus on a spot on a horizon after symptoms begin, says Adamian.

  • Try an over-the-counter medication. Many people pop a Dramamine (or Bonine, which is taken once daily) before a boat trip or similar situation, but Tuznik recommends testing it out first. The medication works similarly to an antihistamine, she explains, and can cause adverse symptoms in some users. “While it works for reducing motion sickness symptoms, it can cause drowsiness, dizziness, even decreased mental alertness,” she notes.

  • Talk to your doctor about prescriptions. Some people, especially those who will be traveling for longer periods of time like those going on a cruise, may want to consult their doctor about prescription-strength medicine. Both Tuznik and Adamian have seen patients benefit greatly from Scopolamine, a skin patch that can be worn behind the ear for up to three days to prevent nausea and vomiting from motion sickness, which they say is less sedating than other medicines.

A multipronged approach — such as trying medication, stocking ginger candy and avoiding the urge to read in the car — tends to yield the best results. “I would not say, if you just take the medication you can ignore all the other factors — every little bit helps,” Adamian says.