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How to Avoid Getting Car Sick

A woman leans out the open door of a parked car, hands over her mouth.
Nicoleta Ionescu/Shutterstock

Do you feel dizzy or queasy when riding in the car? If so, you’re experiencing a common form of motion sickness called car sickness. Understanding what causes car sickness might help you prevent it and enjoy being on the road again.

What Is Motion Sickness?

Car sickness—more commonly referred to as motion sickness, as it can also happen on boats, trains, and so on—is caused by a disturbance in the inner ear. The movement of vehicles triggers reactions of nausea, dizziness, and sometimes vomiting.

It might happen when you look up from reading your phone in the car and feel dizzy. Some people only get it if they are writing or performing other focused fine motor tasks. Most people experience only mild symptoms, like dizziness and some nausea. However, other people might experience severe symptoms, which can include vomiting and physical side effects that last well beyond the duration of their time in the car. Here’s what motion sickness is and how to avoid it.

Motion sickness can make it difficult for those who suffer from its effects to be a passenger (or even a driver). There are many theories around the cause of motion sickness. One is that the disconnect between the perception of your body (the feeling that you’re moving) and the perception of your brain (that you’re sitting still reading or watching a movie on your phone) causes the sick feeling.

Another theory is that the difference between what your inner ear feels in terms of motion and what you perceive feels similar to poison, and your body wants to get rid of it. This causes you to feel nauseous or to throw up.

Whatever the cause, it’s pretty unpleasant, so let’s dig into some common triggers and how to avoid them.

What Causes Motion Sickness?

Even if you don’t usually get motion sickness, you might notice some uneasiness when you do these things while riding in the car:

  • Reading a book or map.
  • Reading or playing games on a phone or portable device.
  • Watching movies on a tablet or portable DVD player.
  • Anything that keeps your eyes off the road and the horizon.

Now, we’re not talking about things you do when you’re driving, which would be distracted driving. People behind the wheel tend to have fewer cases of motion sickness since they’re focused on the world outside the car.

How to Lessen the Effects of Car Sickness

For many, when the car ride ends, so does the motion sickness. For others, symptoms can stick around for a couple of days. Because many people experience motion sickness when riding in a vehicle while reading a book or using their phone, putting down the distractions might help. Before trying medication, here are some natural ways to try to combat motion sickness:

  • Keep your eyes on the horizon: We know that the disconnection between your physical movement and your visual perception of movement is the primary cause of motion sickness. The easiest way to avoid that is to look outside the vehicle and keep your eyes on the horizon. Seeing where the vehicle is headed helps you avoid the feeling of disconnection.
  • Make a chewing motion (or chew gum): This might relieve mild cases of motion sickness as the motion of chewing helps you feel more balanced. You can make chewing motions without chewing anything, or you can chew some gum.
  • Chew some ginger: The nausea-relieving effects of ginger (and chewing) might remedy any feelings of car sickness. There are plenty of ginger products on the market geared toward helping with motion sickness.
  • Avoid reading or playing on your phone: Instead of reading a book or watching a movie, consider listening to audiobooks or podcasts. This keeps you looking up, and allows your body and mind to be in agreement about where you are and what you’re doing.
  • Close your eyes: Try this if looking at the horizon didn’t work for you, or if it’s nighttime and you can’t see the horizon. Take a nap, if you can, or just relax with your eyes closed. Keep an eye mask in the glove box if you need it.
  • Breathe deeply and calmly and take frequent breaks: If you’re feeling nauseous, slowly breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. Stop at a rest stop and get some fresh air. Getting on your feet and balanced again might reverse the effects of motion sickness.

When It’s Time to Try Medication

If you or someone in your family suffers from severe motion sickness, it might be beneficial to take medication specifically for it. The most common medication for car sickness is Dramamine (Dimenhydrinate). It comes in pill form and as chewing gum. If you’re driving, be sure to take only non-drowsy medication.

If that doesn’t cut it, there are prescription options, like Scopolamine, Promethazine, Cyclizine, and Meclizine. Talk to your doctor about which might work best for you. Some work faster than others, and certain medications are not recommended for young children. Check possible side effects before you get behind the wheel.

Yvonne Glasgow Yvonne Glasgow
Yvonne Glasgow has been a professional writer for almost two decades. Yvonne has worked for nutritionists, start-ups, dating companies, SEO firms, newspapers, board game companies, and much more as a writer and editor. She's also a published poet and a short story writer. Read Full Bio »

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